Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama,Horror,Mystery The Wicker Man (2006) – The ill-advised, bee-centric remake

The Wicker Man (2006) – The ill-advised, bee-centric remake

You might be tempted to think that any film that featured Nicolas Cage dressed as a bear and physically assaulting an unarmed woman couldn’t possibly fail to entertain, but this film proves to be a strong case to the contrary. Your enjoyment of this film will rest enormously on whether or not you find Nic Cage’s particular brand of borderline-insane acting to be positive or detrimental – and I count myself in the former category. Nicolas Cage has done some ridiculous films, but I can’t watch him without being massively entertained, particularly as Castor Troy in Face/Off and Big Daddy in Kick-Ass. That being said, even the Cage isn’t enough to disguise this film from what it is; a poorly-made remake that pales in comparison to its predecessor. But then, Neil LaBute is the same joker who decided to get involved when the powers-that-be thought that the witty and funny comedy Death at a Funeral needed a remake less than three years after its initial release!

Nic Cage plays a traumatised cop who is contacted by his ex-fiance Willow (Kate Beahan) after her daughter Rowan (an incredibly creepy Erika-Shaye Gair) goes missing on a mysterious and isolated island called Summerisle. In a nod to the original, Cage’s character is named Edward Malus and Willow’s surname is Woodward, an allusion to the actor Edward Woodward, the lead of the 1973 version. Struggling with flashbacks of a violent traffic accident he witnessed, Malus lands on the island and is greeted by some unfriendly female locals, who all deny knowledge of the little girl’s existence. Meeting with Willow, she warns Malus that the islanders are not to be trusted and will lie to him to cover up the truth. Throughout the film the viewer will undoubtedly be frustrated by this woman’s inability to string a sentence together, as numerous lengthy plot points could have been instantly solved if she had only spoken clearly and actually explained what she meant. Further contact with the rest of the island’s residents reveals that the pagan cult of the original film has been replaced by a commune of straw feminists who worship a nature goddess. Malus learns from the local schoolteacher that Rowan did indeed exist, but died in an accident. When pressed, she makes a plot convenient slip-up of verb tense, telling Malus that Rowan “will burn to death”. Meeting back up with Willow, Malus learns what the audience worked out in the first five minutes, that he is Rowan’s father.

During Malus’ running around the island looking for clues, the film does manage to tap into a fundamental fear of every person in the modern world – being trapped in a small location, surrounded by hostile strangers and, most crucially and most terrifying of all, unable to get a mobile phone signal. Being sabotaged at every turn, Malus ends up in a field of beehives and barely escapes death due to his severe bee-sting allergy. He awakens in the home of the island’s matriarch, Sister Summerisle (Ellen Burstyn), who fills him in on the history of the society, how her Celtic ancestors came to America to escape prejudice for their nature-worship and settle in the isolation of the island. Malus learns that Rowan was the focus of the last harvest festival, which produced a particularly weak harvest, and for this reason Rowan will be burned to appease the gods. Malus thinks he hears Rowan trapped in an old, flooded crypt, but ends up trapped himself until he is rescued by Willow. This serves to drive him a tad insane, as he proceeds to run around the island, kicking people’s doors in and forcibly searching their houses. His lunacy comes to a head when he begins his quest to punch every woman who gets in his way, beginning with the rather masculine barmaid. The ceremony of sacrifice begins, but Malus manages to save Rowan by dressing up in a bear suit and punching out yet another female cultist. But the whole thing turns out to be a ploy, with Rowan leading Malus right to the rest of the islanders so that he may be burned as a sacrifice in the titular Wicker Man. This scene is actually pretty gut-wrenching, as he has both his legs broken, but the atmosphere is ruined when a container is placed on his head and filled with bees. This should be disturbing, but Cage’s acting (“NOT THE BEES! OH, THEY’RE IN MY EYES!”) turns a moment of horror to hilarity. Talus is carried away and placed inside the enormous Wicker Man to be burned alive to the sound of the islanders chanting “the drone must die!”.

Probably the most notable departure from Robin Hardy’s original is the replacement of the pagan cultist islanders with a group of stock feminists who worship natures gods seemingly just because the writers couldn’t think of another reason why they would sacrifice Malus. The original stands head-and-shoulders above its remake simply because the dynamic is more perfectly crafted – Woodward’s Sgt. Howie is a deeply religious man, so much so that he is mature virgin, having never been married, but when he arrives at the island he finds a faith far more powerful than his own. This (to him) perversion of strong faith is like a dark mirror of his own, and the very virtues that he held in highest esteem are now the reason that he’s a prime target to appease the island’s pagan gods. Conversely, the feminist-farmers have no reason to particularly target Malus, apart from the rather weak reason that he has a connection to the island but is not one of them. The feminists themselves are of the laziest and most insulting type, most blatantly illustrated during the classroom scene; the teacher, Sister Rose, enquires of a group of little girls, “What is man in his purest form?”, to which one replies “Phallic symbol, phallic symbol!” Of course, the culture of the island also features the hypocrisy of every lazy feminist stereotype in that “feminism” is defined as anti-male rather than pro-female. Because surely the quickest way to equality between the sexes is for women to visit upon men the same discrimination and maltreatment they have had to endure in past times! But in fairness to the ladies of the island, if Malus is the example they are offered of men from the mainland, their hatred of men might just be justified.

Another new addition to this remake is the inclusion of a strong theme of a bee-based community. Sister Summersisle functions as the “queen”, and her female disciples are the “workers”, all of whom answer to her, with the subservient males serving “drones”, worth nothing more than breeding stock. When this is combined with Malus’ allergy to bee-stings, the provides a good foil and some pointless drama within the narrative. This certainly isn’t a foolish idea, since it makes sense for this structure of community. But my main question is – Why? There was no need for these kinds of analogical devices in the original film. So this isn’t necessarily bad, it is superfluous, and fails to enrich the story in any meaningful way. It could almost be argued that this whole theme was just so that the islanders would have something eerie to chant while Malus burned to death.

As much as I love Nicolas Cage, this is a remake that never needed to happen. Nothing of significance is added, and I would argue that many of the fundamental aspects of the original are sorely missed. It’s less insulting to its heritage and more disappointing, falling so far short of what could have been. It’s a classic story of a “stranger in a strange land” with elements of conspiracy and mystery thrown in, and had the potential to be a tense psychological thriller/horror. A real missed chance that even Nic Cage’s charmingly lunatic performance can’t save.

2 thoughts on “The Wicker Man (2006) – The ill-advised, bee-centric remake”

  1. i remember seeing this movie a few years ago never seeing the original and i thought that I enjoyed Nicolas Cage the rest of the film just seemed lacking.

  2. It’s worth watching if you have a group of friends who love ripping on films. It’s hilarious if you’re in the right frame of mind, and Cage is comic gold. And I’d recommend the original, it’s miles better.

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