The Wicker Man (review)

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The Cartoon Evil That Women Do

The wicker man doesn’t even show up till the last ten minutes of The Wicker Man, and it spoils nothing to say that he turns out to be a big Burning Man ritual-sacrifice monster of a thing. But maybe we’re meant to be seeing poor Nicolas Cage as the wicker man up to that point: a weak twig, a breakable wisp of a man bending in the wind of the nonexistent mercy of strange, evil women. Who can a man trust, if not the One That Got Away, the love of his life, the former fiancée… even if she did run away back home to that weird colony of creepy chicks whence she once came? If this rug of emotional security is pulled out from under a guy, well, what is left? Nothing. Oh, the humanity. Or, the womanity, I guess. Why do women have to be so mean to men?!
I’d look more kindly on Neil LaBute’s profoundly silly movie — his first foray into anything like big-budget filmmaking geared toward a mainstream audience — if I thought he meant any of it in jest, if any of it were winking at us even a little. But alas, this is but his latest metaphoric exploration of the human race’s neverending war between the genders, and he’s as dead serious as he was with his very disturbing debut, In the Company of Men, which, if that’s a comedy, it’s black-as-in-black-hole. And yet Wicker Man is a comedy, too, either an unintentional one or LaBute’s unpleasant little jape for his own amusement about how dumb he thinks mainstream audiences are. We’re not supposed to be in on that joke.

Surely LaBute (Possession, Nurse Betty) cannot have meant us to take honest humor in the ridiculous pagan parody of the little feminine culture on Summersisle, in the Pacific Northwest, so remote that cell phones work or don’t only as it’s convenient for the plot. The women there have no use for men — though they keep a few mute, smiling-idiot ones around to do the heavy lifting — and don’t take kindly to the visit by California cop Edward Malus (Cage: The Ant Bully, Lord of War), even if he was invited by his ex, Willow (Kate Beahan: Flightplan), to investigate the mysterious disappearance of her young daughter, whom it takes crack investigator Edward half the movie to figure out is also his daughter. (We guess this instantly, and we’re not even cops.) Inconsiderately, the women of Summersisle raise bees, which Edward is deadly allergic to, and also shout things like “phallic symbol” at him for no reason except to be accidentally hilarious.

Not so funny about Wicker Man is the truly awful and horrendously self-conscious performances he gets out of a truly fine cast. Cage, usually completely at home with a working-class guy like Edward, is just dreadful, and the women fare even worse: Ellen Burstyn (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Requiem for a Dream) as the cultish leader of the women looks embarrassed; the typically appealing Leelee Sobieski (Max, Joy Ride) is reduced to screaming harpyism; only the slyly elegant Molly Parker (Nine Lives, Max) seems to appreciate how ridiculous this all is, possibly because she’s stuck playing twins Sister Rose (sleek and pretty) and Sister Thorn (hard and sharp).

But what can anyone do with the awkward, stilted dialogue LaBute forces on his cast? (He adapted the screenplay from that of the 1973 British film of the same name.) It’s hardly Cage’s fault that Edward has to, for instance, attempt to assert law-enforcement authority two states out of his jurisdiction… except that Cage served as a producer here, and slapped his production company’s name on this. So maybe it is everything Cage wanted, illogical plot and nonsensical dialogue and all.

If that’s so, then the only conclusion The Wicker Man can leave us with is that if women really are bad and Edward is representative of the schmoes they treat poorly, the guys probably deserve it for being so dumb and easily manipulated in the first place.

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