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3 April, 2009 / Erik

Best of Yakmala: The Wicker Man (2006)

Let’s just start with the video:

These scenes work almost exactly the same in context. The 1973 original Wicker Man with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee is a classic. It’s one of those, “the northern villagers are crazy” horror stories the British Isles do so well. It’s also a musical. That’s right, a horror movie musical. All of the songs are about pagan sex.

But put all of that out of your mind as Neil LaBute recreates The Wicker Man for an American audience. Instead of “northern villagers” place in “women.” In the world of Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man, all women are the same. They have evolved. There are many copies.

And they have a plan.

The movie opens with Nic Cage doing his best Electra Glide in Blue impression. He’s a CHP officer with the improbable name Edward Malus. After failing to save a woman and her child, Malus recieves a letter from his long lost love Willow. Her daughter has gone missing and she needs Malus’s aid. She lives on a tiny island in Washington called Summersisle.

wicker_man_screenshotMalus proceeds to be generally condescending to the population of Summersisle. He also likes to throw his badge around a lot and claim he’s on official police business. Apparently, a CHP’s authority extends across all of US 1 and nearby islands.

He learns Willow’s missing daughter is also his own child and begins a frantic search to find her. He assembles clues that lead him to believe she will be sacrificed because the Honey crop failed last year. (The grow honey on Summersisle)

He eventually starts stealing bikes at gunpoint, harrasing people, and finally, attacks a women for her bear costume, as seen in the video. He does this to get into the women of Summersisle fertility whatsits and save his little girl, Rowan.

But it turns out all the women have been league from the start to get Edward Malus (isn’t that just like women?). So they break his legs, sting him with bees, because he’s allergic and string him up in a Wicker Man. It is hoped his sacrifice will produce honey.

So why do I think this film hates women? Let’s see. I think the damning moment is when a couple of the fertility revelers turn out to be the woman and daughter from the beginning of the film! Throught the film, the women trade knowing glances and smiles. The whole thing is pretty over the top. LaBute’s previous work has a streak we can generously called “misogynistic,” but the Wicker Man takes it to a new extreme.

So if this was LaBute’s intent, why is film a “Best of” selection? LaBute’s view of women completely fails to be chilling in any way, shape, or bear. The original film gets a great deal of its tension from the legitimate clash of cultures between and urbanized Catholic cop and a small highland community. In the end, that cop turns out to be the bad guy, imposing his views on a town that gets along fine, for the most part, without modernity.

LaBute tries to transpose that geniune culture conflict into the war of the sexes which is never as sharp as anyone would have you believe. Therefore, all of Cage’s sarcasm, vitriol, and fisticuffs make him appear as bad or worse than the women who are preventing him from doing his job … out of his juristiction. Also, because we don’t have the same history as Europe, the women of Summersisle come off fairly modern. The only palpable difference between Summersisle and the rest of the country is its recognized matriarchy. Oooh! Scary!

Instead of horror, what is laid bare (ha! that’s two now) is LaBute’s own fears of a completely female-ran society where men are releaved of their tongues and women become a uniformed mob relentless in the persecution and control of the other. In the Wicker Man is the belief that all women are just one woman out to emasculate, cripple, and then emolate man.

And he used Nicholas Cage, a man who often acts like his head is constantly on fire, to be his spokesperson. It’s a daft little film that I’m sure he’d love to call a dark comedy, but like Tommy Wiseau, LaBute laid himself out a little to naked to believe that this anything else but his darkest nightmare made cinema.

Also, this film is full of more wackiness than the video let’s on. Including Leelee Sobieski trying on three personalities in the span of one scene and twin girls repeatedly saying “Phallic symbol. Phallic symbol.” There’s plenty more, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Therefore, it was perfect for us.

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One Comment

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  1. Alex / May 22 2012 3:10 pm

    I had a feeling the braveheart lady would be revealed as the token “evil mil” somehow. She openly told him she was a murderer the 1st time they met… is that what criminals do these days? Great review anyway.

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