THE WICKER MAN
The 1973 cult offering The Wicker Man is one of those compelling “mood pieces” that could only have emerged from the early 70s. Like other fine works of its period (including two by Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now and Walkabout), it employs allegory and atmosphere to amplify its thin veneer of the supernatural - it registers as a fantasy flick in our minds more than it does on the screen. The Wicker Man, about a repressed detective (Edward Woodward) who visits a remote island off the coast of Scotland in search of a missing girl and in the process unearths a decadent and primitive society, was ultimately an examination of competing religions -- Christianity vs. paganism -- and as such had a field day offering up a slew of ambiguous interpretations that (depending on the viewer) either spoke out against rigid Christian doctrine, against reckless hedonism, or against any form of organized worship. Writer-director Neil LaBute’s remake is a disastrous miscalculation, shucking religion completely and instead fashioning the tale as a battle between upstanding male dominance and wicked feminist doctrine. LaBute has repeatedly faced charges of misogyny (see In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things and Your Friends & Neighbors) but never before has he appeared quite this terrified of emasculation -- it’s as if John Bobbitt had gotten hold of a movie camera and made a film in which all the female characters were based on his interpretation of Lorena Bobbitt. Nicolas Cage plays the befuddled protagonist here, no longer a God-(and sex-)fearing cop but rather a generic Hollywoodized detective (no spiritual side, haunted by a past tragedy, forever popping pills, etc.). Hampered by its fondness for annoying dream sequences, the film mopes along drearily, the only jolts coming when we witness an unexpected rage in Cage as he punches and kicks several women (including teenage girls); then again, these scenes are perfectly in line with LaBute’s apparent worldview. On its own terms, this Wicker Man earns a weak two stars for a few effectively staged sequences and OK performances; compared to its predecessor, it’s a one-star blasphemy. So that averages out to...
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