September 3, 2006

Movie Review: The Wicker Man

Remakes and reimaginings of film have been a part the cinemas since the dawn of film. Through all those years some have been good and some have been great, still others mediocre, and many just downright terrible. When a remake is ready to hit the screens, there is the great debate as to whether I should watch the original film, if I haven't seen it, or if I should go into it with somewhat of a clean slate, without the baggage of that prior film. The Wicker Man was no different a task. Ultimately, I chose to enter it baggage free.

The Wicker Man was a strange movie. It is a film that seems to revel in how weird it is, yet fails to truly develop any of the characters. The story moves along barely scratching the surface of the possibilities. Despite its lack of depth, ultimately silly plot, I found the potential depth to be intriguing, as well as the progression into depression and, I guess, madness that Nicolas Cage's character goes through. Then there is the ending, which is not in the typical Hollywood tradition, thankfully.

I am sure all of you have seen the commercials, which means that have probably seen a good portion of the opening sequence. Cage, as Officer Edward Malus, retrieving a doll thrown from a car window, and as he goes to return it, the car is struck by an oncoming tractor trailer. Sadly, this setup never really goes anywhere except to kick off Malus' depression.

The story kicks into gear when Malus receives a letter from an old flame, Willow, which tells him of her missing daughter, Rowan, and a request for help. Against what I would presume to be his better judgement, he heads off to the remote Summerisle commune to take up the investigation.

As soon as he arrives on the island, things seem a little bit off. His first encounter after arriving on the island is with a group of women who deny knowing the girl, while a couple of men hold a bag that contains something that could be described as child sized thrashes about inside, while it drips some sort of liquid. Even moreso than the opening carwreck, this is the tablesetter, this sets the ton for the rest of the film as Edward Malus dives into this community that he does not understand in search of a girl that everyone seems intent on saying never existed.

The deeper he digs, the more opposition he faces. At each turn he is confronted with new pieces of information that don't mesh with what he had learned earlier. Who is telling the truth? What is the secret of Summersisle? Where is the little girl? All good questions, and all questions that may never have any answers, if the inhabitants of the island have anything to say about it.

As he the search continues, he is confronted with a strongly matriarchal society which is structured similar to the beehives which they use for the maintenance of the island. The harvest the honey and use it as their chief form of income. It is run by an eccentric woman, Sister Summersisle, played with a subdued intensity by Ellen Burstyn. Besides the matriarchal structure, they have developed their own sense of spirituality which centers on Summersisle as the physical representation of their goddess.

The Wicker Man is a film full of subtext, both societal and spiritual. It is an interesting look at the relationship between the sexes, and the way that interaction with our spiritual selves. The biggest problem that the me as a viewer faced was digging through the alternating boredom and flat out weirdness of the surface. The characters are just sketches of what they could have been, let down by a script that is only half completed. I tried to delve into them, but was let down by the strange turns in the actions which did not seem to be a natural development of the script.

If for no other reason than the utter weirdness and ending absurdity, plus the unintentionally scenes of humor, you may want to take a peak at this one. I did like Cage's performance. He did a good job of portraying the depressed awkwardness that moved into the fish out of water, and a man descending into a bizarre world where he did not belong.

Bottomline. A film like this is really hard to get a read on. There are things to like about this movie, like working to dig into those subtexts, some of the performances, the weirdness involved, all add up to a movie that I could like. On the other hand, some performances are pretty bad, character motivations are sometimes questionable, some scenes induced unintended belly laughs, and the story just seemed rather lame when the climax rolled around. Not bad, but not good either. So take this as:

Mildly Recommended.
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