The Wicker Man
2006Director: Neil LaBute
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker
t might be a man’s world, but try telling that to Neil LaBute. The Detroit-bred filmmaker is known for his men, not his women, and though he certainly isn’t the lone professor of male-centric narrative interests in Hollywood, his films have more than pulled their weight amid the clutter. Operating with such interests, he has created some of the most incisive and brutal investigations of middle-aged masculinity in recent years, most famously with In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors. He’s also not known for his civility, although he typically affords an equally incendiary eye to all of his characters, male or female, intentionally vicious or destructive through some other vice.
So, what are we to do with The Wicker Man, a movie so extravagantly miscalculated that it features Nic Cage donning a giant bear suit, running from a cult of alpha females, and beating a woman all in the same sequence to save a little girl he’s never met? The film exists in a world where every character and motivation is either pointless or unnecessary to the final outcome. Its opening sequence, a money shot of a little girl and her mom getting rammed by a semi, is repeated in several different variations to no obvious end, while a horrific image of a little girl’s death is repeatedly presented and then revoked because (you guessed it) it was all a dream.
Of course it was. The movie, on the other hand, is a grim piece of reality for which very few will be prepared, a misogynistic and outrageous embarrassment with no tact or narrative integrity in sight. Cage is an enduring actor who, even in his most off-note performances, brings a peculiar charisma to the screen. But here he missteps so bluntly. in both his complacency with such an offensive role and his jittery performance itself, that you half think the whole thing is some kind of in-joke between friends. I fear not, and the result is one of the most disastrous, absurd, offensive studio movies in memory. This will make for one hell of a commentary track.
The plot. Hmm…Let’s put it this way: At first, it seems to be about Edward Malus (Cage), a cop called to a secluded Pacific Northwest island by his former fiancée to help find the missing daughter he never knew she had. In pictures, the girl looks to have aged about the same number of years the former lovers have been apart, but never mind, no time to think about that, must get to the island to redeem the past, win back the girl, amorally beat the hell out of every woman who gets in the way, and so on.
The movie, a barely recognizable remake of the equally bizarre but more agreeably disconcerting 1973 cult touchstone, adopts Hollywood’s recent fetish for treacherous little kids as the industry’s personal form of birth control, and has such an intense contempt for women that it feels the need to have the hero clock several of them to the ground. Like the original, which was set off the Scottish coast, not in the Americas, Edward’s xenophobia becomes a central plot point. He unabashedly tells the island women that he will enforce laws as they stand in a “normal” society. That’s fine, but it’s one thing to explore such sentiments and quite another to condone them. The cat-and-mouse game between Edward and the islanders develops into a weird sort of condemnation of even the most rudimentary of their beliefs and ideals. In this movie, the women on the island are not only the villains but also natural inferiors, primitive cultists who need someone to show them the light.
This is an ugly, repulsive movie, obsessed with a female domination fantasy that starts out uncomfortably and quickly spirals into the incoherent. LaBute has gone from unforgiving words in his previous films to unforgiving violence, and the transition is as disturbing as it is superfluous. The Wicker Man has all the right ingredients to frighten with suggestion; that LaBute feels such an outward need to go for the jugular suggests a hatred darker than any of the silly images he contrives—one that, in the end, threatens to cast his past work in a much different light.
The Wicker Man is playing in theatres across the country.