The Wickerman- Deliverance for Pagans
By Kristin Battestella
I indulged my honey and spent the Labor Day holiday at the cinema. On tap, The Wicker Man- the latest thriller starring Oscar winner Nicholas Cage. Based on the preview alone, we settled in for mystery, intrigue, and crazy tractor trailer wrecks.
Cage stars as Ed Malus-a cop who questions himself and his job after failing to save a mother and daughter from a terrible accident. A strange letter from his former fiancée Willow (Kate Beahan) arrives, and Ed packs up for Summersisle- an isolated, seemingly peaceful honey farming commune. Unfortunately, Willow has summoned Ed on grave business-her daughter Rowan is missing, and the island’s ritualistic ways may be the cause. Summersisle’s population is largely women-the men don’t speak, and the women are interested in the Harvest Festival and the coming of the wicker man more than Ed’s investigation of a missing child. Oh boy!
Director Neil LaBute (Nurse Betty) handles Cage well. The versatile actor keeps the film light with sardonic jabs and teasing regarding the Summersisle ways. Some of the silly practices of the Summersisle women are, however, unintentionally funny. From bear suits to crow masks- even the site of ‘Sister Honey’ Leelee Sobieski chopping wood and flirting with Cage is somehow humorous to me. Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist) plays the matriarch Summersisle with grace and poise, but her character also falls with silly make up and kinky hand maidens galore. The bee hive parallels are evident, and Willow’s lips look like she’s been stung one too many times. Humor aside, the supporting cast in fine in its support of Cage. The women offer snippets of information and weird bits for Ed to chew on. Even Willow doesn’t tell Ed everything. Why would she not tell the man who is trying to find her daughter everything?
After Ed’s visions of the missing Rowan, I suspected he was dreaming the whole thing. Ed awakes from missing child and love lost to find himself in a hospital bed-fresh from the crash that started the film. Ha! I won’t spoil the ending, but my superior scenario isn’t it. I’ve not seen the 1973 The Wicker Man starring horror alum Christopher Lee, nor can I say what the rewatchibility of this version is. Will the twist ending become as classic as The Sixth Sense? It’s possible, but unlikely. Despite the humor and tongue in cheek nature of the rituals portrayed, hints to the film’s outcome are evident. It didn’t come out of the blue, but I was surprised by the closing events. If LaBute hadn’t dropped clues to intrigue the viewer, The Wicker Man would be a complete lost cause.
Modern witches and pagans I suspect will be displeased with LaBute’s portrayal of Summersisle and its commune. Surely not all witches are interested in sacrifices and breeding programs or creepy animal getups. At the same time, Christian groups might dislike the old fashioned earthy witches with sinister notions at heart.
The Wicker Man is for intelligent fans of the cooky and spooky. Perhaps not The Sixth Sense, but The Wicker Man appeals to newer fans of twisters like The Ring. Is the unexpected worth the hokey rituals? I would not pay to see The Wicker Man again in the theater. Look for the DVD instead. I’m sure LaBute will present a complete version with deleted scenes and alternate footage which is now the norm. Maybe the Lee version could be packaged with it. That would be a good buy.