THE WICKER MAN
102 minutes approx
Edward Malus -
Sister Summerisle -
Written by -
Directed by -
A cop pulls over a woman and daughter in their station wagon in order to return the little girl's doll only to see them burned in a brutal accident. Whilst convalescing, he recieves a letter from his ex-fiancee, now living in a farming commune on the island of Summersisle in Washington State. Her daughter has gone missing and she fears for her life. Unable to resist the plea, he travels to the commune only to find that the people there refuse to admit to the girl's existence, let alone that she has gone missing. The mother continues to insist that her daughter is still alive and on the island, and other events support her claim, but suggest that the girl is to be sacrificed to the Gods in a ceremony of death and rebirth in order to improve the failing crops.
Another remake of another old horror movie. There really isn't anything new under the sun any more and the horror genre seems to be bearing the brunt of it at the moment with old classics being reinvented along with the anglicised versions of asian scare movies.
The original WICKER MAN, though, was not some slasher in the woods movie that could benefit from new techniques in blood making or more liberalised attitudes to blood on screen. Instead, it relied on a slow burn of mystery and atmosphere to build up a very real sense of dread before finally revealing its terrifying twist in the final scenes. In that film there was no hint of threat to the investigating officer (Edward Woodward, remembered here by the hero being called Edward and the victim being called Rowan Woodward) only to his beliefs.
And it's here that the new version falls down. Gone is the conflict between deeply held christian beliefs and the paganism of the island that lay at he heart of the original. This undermines the identity of the real victim to just some randomly chosen guy. The added relationship between him and the mother of the girl, and Rowan herself, doesn't replace this and the true parentage of the child is almost thrown away as being of little interest when it should be providing the heart of the (psychological) horror. This also loses all of the pagan detailing that made the original so intriguing with even the costume that the cop wears in the parade having significance. Gone also is the perverse open sexuality that pervaded the first film and which again offended the policeman's christian virtue, but also tempted him so badly, setting up a dramatic tension that is lacking through much of the film's earlier parts. Being dangled over pitchforks and locked in watery caverns are cheap tricks in comparison.
It's not all bad though. Nicolas Cage does OK with the traumatised cop driven to find the girl because of the one he failed to save. His ordinary Joe act doesn't quite come off, but his disgust at what he sees happening on the island is well played and would have benefitted from the religious angles that aren't there. Ellen Burstyn also makes for a formidable foil as Sister Summersisle, but is in barely two scenes and so her impact is wasted. The climax also retains its power to shock, if you haven't seen the original that is.
THE WICKER MAN isn't going to please anyone. Fans of the original will bemoan all of the lost atmosphere, detail and subtexts whilst modern horror fans will find the faint thrills of being attacked by bees and having nasty nightmares unsatisfying to say the least. If intrigued by the plot, it might send viewers to the DVD shop to rent the original and that, at least, will be a good thing.
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