8/2/07

R025 The Wicker Man

(2006, Horror, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy

They’re all hopped up on bee venom and feminist rhetoric.

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

An intermittently delusional cop tries to rescue his daughter from killer Wiccan feminists.

Summary:

Little girls are of the devil.CHP Officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) recovers a doll from the freeway, flags down its station wagon of origin, and returns it to the recalcitrant little girl in the back seat. The girl ignores her mother’s remonstrances to throw it out the window again. Edward goes into the road to pick it up. A big rig speeds around the corner, swerves to miss him, and smashes through the station wagon, leaving behind a burning mass of twisted metal.

Weeks or perhaps months later, Edward is still on leave, hallucinating about pigtailed youngsters getting run down by semis while he crunches down psychotropic drugs like Smarties. A friendly colleague delivers his mail. Included is an unstamped envelope from his former fiancé, begging him to help her find their missing daughter.

Against sound advice from co-workers and peers, Edward travels to a remote island off the coast of Washington State, known as Summerisle. He bribes the island colony’s reluctant supply deliveryman to fly him over, and introduces himself to the natives. Said natives consist almost entirely of maddeningly condescending neopagan Caucasian women, with the occasional silent and downcast male.

During Edward’s subsequent investigation, his ex-fiancé Willow babbles nonsensically while the other island dwellers alternately tell him that the girl is either dead or non-existent. Edward himself spends most of the rest of the film breaking into houses, insulting people, and shouting incomprehensibly. (To clarify: by “shouting incomprehensibly” I do not mean to impugn Mr. Cage’s impeccable diction. I clearly understood every word he overemoted. Rather, the words strung together in context made no sense at all.)

Hey, Nick.  Who's the beard?Eventually it becomes clear to Edward that the island dwellers intend to sacrifice the girl to appease their unspecified pagan deities. Pleas to the men go unheeded, as their tongues have been cut out. He punches several women and steals a bear costume to infiltrate the sacrificial ceremony. Upon seeing his daughter tied to a stake, he punches several more women, unties the girl, and flees with her into the woods.

The little girl runs faster than he does. His efforts to keep up lead them right back into a crowd of cultists and their tongueless male enforcers. The cult leader (Ellen Burstyn) explains: the whole “sacrifice the girl to appease the pagan gods” routine was a ruse to lure Edward to their island. Guess who’s really marked for sacrifice?

Edward pulls his gun, but Willow has stolen his bullets. The cultists break both his legs, put his head in a hood full of bees, and then haul him to the top of a giant wooden idol (the eponymous Wicker Man). During the ensuing ritual, his daughter sets the whole contraption on fire. Edward screams as he is roasted alive. Happy May Day everyone!

Thoughts:

She is a wild, spooky chick.The Wicker Man is shockingly misogynist and insultingly puerile. That’s about par for a modern horror film, but auteur Neil LaBute compounds this by making his film unrelentingly dull. Mostly, though, it’s just insultingly puerile.

How insulting you ask? Allow me to present Exhibit A: Ellen Burstyn stops the first action sequence in the entire movie to exhaustively explain the “shocking twist ending,” an ending that’s been obvious to anyone with half a brain for the last ten to twenty minutes. Or, if you’ve seen/heard of/read about the vastly superior 1973 original, for the last ten to twenty years.

Exhibit B: When all the women (sorry, wommyn) remove their pagan animal masks at the end, we see the faces of the recalcitrant doll girl and her station-wagon-driving mother among them. Now to begin with, the whole station wagon scenario is completely superfluous to the rest of the film. More egregiously, however, no one has ever mentioned or even implied any supernatural element up to this point. Nevertheless, this is the only explanation for a) how the girl and her mother managed to escape the wreck unscathed, b) how they were able to drop a doll out the window and know he’d risk his life to pick it up instead of ignoring it, and c) how they knew this incident would mire him in haze of hallucinogenic guilt, from which he could only escape by helping an estranged former fiancé track down a little girl whose very existence is frequently called into question. (On the other hand, this sequence made me wish for more pseudo-paranormal shenanigans. It still wouldn’t have made any sense, but it might have made the movie more interesting.)

Exhibit C: The nonsensical symbolism. Part of the original Wicker Man’s success came from the way it pitted a relatively realistic representative of modern Christianity against a version of neopaganism that was, if not exactly realistic, at least real-seeming enough to be frightening. This version would like to be men vs. women—a good idea, except that Edward can’t exactly be called masculine. (Nor can he be called feminine. His character isn’t clearly drawn enough to be called anything, really.) On the other side, the matriarchal society of Summerisle doesn’t have any realistically female issues to put forward either; their over-the-top man-hating is so baselessly intense that it passes well into the realm of the absurd. It’s as if LaBute did all his research into feminism by reading Richard Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.

Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy struggle valiantly along, but given nothing to work with, they mostly just argue about whether Edward’s attire should be called a “suit” or a “sport coat and slacks.” Whenever Edward pops another mouthful of psychotropics, they refer to an imaginary drug called Traum-Ex, which, considering all the horrible side-effects they invent for it, should never be ingested by anyone, ever. When the film finally ends, Mike says, “Remember: hate and fear anyone who is not you.” It’s a long, boring film with a nasty ending, and Mike and Kevin seem helpless to do anything but make fun of how boring and nasty it is. I won’t be watching this one again.