It takes a combination of audacity and stupidity to want to remake The Wicker Man. Robin Hardy’s 1973 thriller is note-perfect, largely because nothing quite approaches its unsettling tone. The Wicker Man almost looks like something PBS broadcast in the middle of the afternoon when you were a kid, but its happy Scottish fields are set askew by suggestive musical numbers, nudity and rampant sociopathy. It’s all topped by one of cinema’s most horrifying climaxes, the emotional equivalent of being hit by a Mack truck.
It’s telling of our time that the new Wicker Man begins with a literal Mack truck collision. Policeman Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) is haunted by his inability to save a young girl from the wreck. At the persuasion of ex-girlfriend Willow (Kate Beahan), Malus travels to Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of Willow’s daughter Rowan.
It’s here that director Neil LaBute, a source of controversy over whether his movies deal with Women’s Issues or just Issues with Women, really digs his own grave. The original film had a deeply Christian detective at righteous odds with a Pagan community. The cult’s unorthodox practices against traditional notions of decency was a commentary on the divisiveness left after the 1960s. It’s a masterpiece about isolation and the human incompat- ibility that comes with all dogmatic extremism.
This time Summerisle is run by a matriarchal cult. Men are their slaves. Reformatting The Wicker Man into a critique on contemporary gender attitudes has pertinence. Presenting feminism as a current exclusionary state is the kind of reckless leap a movie without complexity can’t justify. Malus has no shades of grey. By the time Malus delivers a full-force kick to Leelee Sobieski’s face, LaBute has played his cards so that viewers have previously had no reason to doubt the detective’s basic virtues.
The strength of Anthony Schaeffer’s original Wicker Man screenplay still resonates. LaBute doesn’t water it down, but uses it to work through his own disturbance. Finding its own bizarre path within the original movie’s structure, fears that The Wicker Man remake wouldn’t live up to its predecessor’s weirdness can be put to rest. But it’s a different, troubled strangeness—the uncommon sight of a literate studio film extolling messages most literate audiences can’t get behind—that makes the movie’s presence fascinating.
Anyone concerned about harmful portrayals of women in movies should take note of Jamie Babbit’s The Quiet—a year’s worth of trash-talk-show melodrama wrapped in one ugly package. It’s set among high school girls who seek self-worth by exploiting the weakness of everyone around them. This could make an OK premise, except Babbit shows no belief in basic human goodness.
Following her parents’ death, deaf-and-mute Dot (Camilla Belle) is adopted by the family of Nina (Elisha Cuthbert), one of the cruelest girls in school. Dot becomes the person to whom everyone can whisper their darkest secrets. When Nina confesses that she’s having sex with her own father, the sensationalist pileup makes it difficult to understand what mindset could take this seriously. Like Pretty Persuasion without an intended sense of humour, The Quiet’s fatalistic woe becomes an indie film mockery. It’s truly adolescent.
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