Monday, September 30, 2013

5th Monday Ugh: The Wicker Man

Might I interest you in some bees?
In 1967, David Pinner published a horror novel called "Ritual." Six years later, Robin Hardy directed a very highly regarded (and very R-rated) horror classic based on that book he called "The Wicker Man." Over three decades later, Neil LaBute and Nicholas Cage thought maybe they could do it better. The result? A film I must admit I'm a bit obsessed with: the 2006 remake. Now, hear me out, I'm not saying it's a good film; in fact, everybody pretty much agrees it's one of the worst horror films ever made. When I say I'm "obsessed," I mean I am obsessed with its badness. I've seen this movie a lot of times (and I do mean a lot); I've even watched the director's commentary! So here's my two cents on what makes it bad, and what it is about that badness that makes it sort of irresistible.

Like the best bad movies, this film means well; LaBute is artistically-minded, if nothing else. The problem is he makes the wrong choice at pretty much every turn. There is some degree of talent involved here, but it is misused and poorly focused. You can feel the intention behind the screen, but what actually reaches us is impossible to take serious, confusing, and at times downright non-nonsensical. Why does this film take place in a reality so alien to our own? Why do the characters have such trouble just completing their sentences?? The humans here do not act like humans, so it's impossible to care about what's happening. They stutter around their thoughts and actions as if removed from humanity. They laugh and fight and smile and scream, but we don't have a real sense of them doing so in a logical progression based on what's happening. You've never seen people laugh about saying there's a shark in a bag until you've seen "The Wicker Man."

I don't know Nicholas Cage personally, and maybe he's a totally cool guy, but what I see when I watch this movie is someone who is extremely eccentric, maybe even a little disturbed, and it doesn't feel like acting. In the director's commentary, LaBute explains that drastic revisions were made during the actual filming because Cage would say, and I'm paraphrasing here, "No. This isn't how I would do it if I were really Edward. I would do such and such. I would do this instead." You can see the logic, right? As an actor, he's envisioning himself in the situation and saying it would be more realistic if he handled it differently. This might hold water if Cage were like you or me, but what we actually see is an inept policeman doing very little police work and a lot of erratic, bizarre, often somewhat hateful things. We see Cage lose his temper over and over. He punches people. He screams. He seems tense and frustrated, but we never really get the feeling that it's about anything. He simply has these feelings and does these things. Watching the film, you might find yourself thinking, "Hm. I don't think I would have thought to handle that situation in such a manner." Also, how can someone act so uninterested in what they are doing and yet so angry at the same time? Truly, he is a master.

Many times, I watched the film with the help of
the Rifftrax commentary. I even got Kevin Murphy
to sign my copy of the movie!! "Not the bees!"
My absolute favorite thing about the movie is how the opening scene has absolutely nothing to do with the plot as a whole. Clearly, SOMETHING supernatural is happening; Cage watches an 18-wheeler slam into a parked car, killing the two passengers (a woman and her daughter), and their bodies are never found. That's kind of interesting, right? Who were they? How do they relate to Cage being summoned to Summersisle to look for his missing daughter? Well, despite constant flashbacks reminding us of this traumatic incident, we get to the end of the film, to the plot twist about why Cage was coerced to coming to the island in the first place, and we find...nothing. The backbone of the film, the "ritual," the Wicker Man itself, has nothing--may I repeat this? NOTHING--to do with the mother-daughter tragedy from the opening scene. As a director, what could possibly be the appeal of doing this? Because it's weird? Maybe LaBute hopes to draw us in with the incident, and then let us forget about it, but how can we when he shows it to us no fewer than five times throughout the entire movie?

At every corner of the film there's something that might have worked, that maybe could get the juices flowing, the mind turning, but we always come up empty-handed. LaBute sets the stage over and over, he hints at a greater mystery, he makes promises, but in the end it all turns out to be a ruse. No, I don't mean a ruse to fool Edward, I mean a ruse to fool us. At best, this film is an insult to its viewers; at worst it is an unfulfilled, high-budget dream.


Some bonus Wicker Man fun!

Comedy trailer:
Who burned Nick's toast?:
Conan's Nicholas Cage Terror Alert System:
The Rifftrax commentary:

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