The Wicker Man 2006 REVIEW

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The Wicker Man 2006 – a failed remake of the British folk horror classic – deservedly went straight to the DVD bargain bins, writes BARRY McCANN

Nicolas Cage in a scene from The Wicker Man 2006.
Nicolas Cage in a scene from The Wicker Man 2006.

TITLE: The Wicker Man
RELEASED: 2006
DIRECTOR: Neil LaBute
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Beahan, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski, Diane Delano

Review of The Wicker Man 2006

2006 saw the coming and going of one of the most unwelcome remakes of all. Produced by and starring Nicholas Cage, the Americanised version of The Wicker Man was written and directed by Neil LaBute, who set the action on a fictional island off the Washington coast, called Summersilse, the slight respelling sounding more feminine as he had a bold idea as to portraying its inhabitants.       

His screenplay opens in California with Cage as patrol cop Edward Malus, who is psychologically damaged after failing to save a mother and young daughter from a burning car. During his subsequent sick leave, he receives a letter from former girlfriend Willow, who is back on her native Summersilse and seeking his help as her young daughter has disappeared.      

This opening section actually works fine, being an almost original prologue authored by LaBute himself. It is only when Malus arrives on Summersilse, and LaBute actually starts re-treading Schaffer’s script, that he begins to repeatedly misfire.

Going for what he described as a “Dionysian vibe”, LaBiute envisages a colony with women in charge and men as socially emasculated drones, apparently unable to speak or interact normally through lack of education and suppression. Apart from manual labour, their only function is “Breeding, you know” as Sister Summersilse puts it. 

The production of honey is the industry of Summersilse, and their social order an externalisation of a genus Apis colony with Sister Summersilse as the Queen Bee. This may be a pagan textured set up, but is really a Disney-fied conceit with no points of reference to identifiable paganist cultures based on a polytheistic balance of the two genders. 

This misses the point that while the community leader in Schaffer’s screenplay may be male (Lord Summerisle), the spiritual leader is female (Miss Rose) and the standing between the two a level one as represented in the scene where they duet together, reaffirming the symmetry of male and female as the dynamic of their lifestyle.

LaBute’s construct suggests a fear of the controlled becoming controller and may draw inspiration from the isolated society of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland 1915 where men have been eliminated and women conceive children through parthenogenesis. It would have been intriguing if LaBute had made Summersilse female only with parthenogenetic reproduction as a gift from the Goddess, a cycle renewed by the sacrifice of a male lured in from outside. The figure of a Wicker Man would have been symbolically more appropriate for this scenario than bee worshippers.   

Another added innovation is the revelation that Rowan is actually Malus’s biological child, a story strand contrived to create a blood connection between Malus and their community, making him reverent for sacrifice when the need arises to lure him there. But LaBute complicates this with clumsy illogicality in having Willow impregnated by an officer with the Californian State Patrol when Summersisle comes under Washington and, as Sister Beech points out, is outside his jurisdiction? Conversely, having received Willow’s letter about her missing child, Malus would surely have referred the matter to the Washington State Police.

Unfortunately, there are other examples that run completely against the rational of the plot, such as the sisterhood murdering the pilot for bringing Malus to the island despite that being exactly what they needed him to do. Even more baffling are the two death traps that Malus is lured, each of which he barely escapes from with his life. But since he needs to be at the appointed time and place to reverence the sacrifice, why attempt to kill him beforehand? 

The Wicker Man 2006 Poster
The Wicker Man 2006 Poster

LaBute could have been recalling the Grimm’s folktale of The Six Servants, in which a sorceress Queen uses her daughter to lure young men to her kingdom and perform up to three set tasks which, if they fail, will result in them kneeling to face decapitation. 

Malus succeeds in the three tasks appointed to him, responding to Willow’s call for help and surviving the two death traps. This may also explain why they save his life in-between the second and third task, his near death experience with the bee stings being unplanned. But in accordance with The Six Servant, he ends up kneeling insides the head of the Wicker Man which, as the flames reach it, is itself decapitated and falls.

I only posit this tale as a possible antecedent since it wouldn’t be the only intertextual reference in LaBute’s screenplay. In true postmodern style, he also points to Don’t Look Now by having Malus see glimpses of a little girl in red. We are never informed who she actually is or whether she is linked to the young girl whose life he is unable to save at the film’s opening whose body or that of her mother were never found. 

Setting up thought provoking imponderables is pretty pointless if no further clues are offered. Another example is making a plot issue of Malus finding his self-help tape has been stolen during his first night on the island. But we are never told why because the script promptly consigns this development to a narrative cul de sac. 

Warner Bros seemingly realised they The Wicker Man remake was a failure, having decided to bypass a premier and shove it straight out on the circuit. The word got around quick and it failed to even make its costs back. A re-edited version subsequently released on DVD was soon gracing the bargain bins and that, quite frankly, is where this misfired venture belongs.

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