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The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man

Directed by Neil LaBute. Starring Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Beahan, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski. (2006, PG-13, 97 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 8, 2006

Through the auspices of my recently created (on the drive home, actually) beneficent organization, the Society to Create Rapid Ecclesiastical Wisdom, I'm hoping to organize a mass screening of LaBute's The Wicker Man for certain select members of the populace – the Promise Keepers, Duke University's lacrosse team, the Taliban, Larry Flynt – all of whom I feel might benefit from a viewing of the film. I realize, of course, that some method of restraint – á la A Clockwork Orange – might be necessary to keep eyes from wandering, but still, I believe the expense of retrofitting a theatre or 2,000 will be a sound investment in offsetting any future dearth of comedy in my lifetime. If the giggly shocked expression that blossomed on my face while watching LaBute's well-intentioned but inadvertently silly film is any indication, I cannot wait to see what epic maxillary contortions members of the above-mentioned groups have in store for me. What fun! British director Robin Hardy's 1973 original featured Edward Woodward as a "Christian copper" who is lured to a remote island paradise under the pretext of locating a missing child. Once there, he runs afoul of the pagan locals, overseen by a sublimely witty, preening Christopher Lee, and eventually comes to no good end. That film, scripted by Anthony Shaffer from his novel, deserves every accolade (and there have been oceans of them) it continues to receive; alongside Rosemary's Baby, it's one of the horror genre's few flawless films. LaBute's version replaces the vague, sinister paganism of the original with a creepy infusion of earth-mother estrogen gone haywire. Anyone who thinks the world might be a nicer place if women ran things should thank their lucky stars LaBute isn't a deity. Whew, mama! Replacing Woodward (who early on shows up on a police-station "wanted" poster) as the mystified mainland authority figure is Cage, who gives the role his all but is ultimately overwhelmed by the film's increasingly muddled theocratic thematics. It's a hoot to see him ride around on – haw! – a girl's bicycle (there are no cars, phones, or male tongues, apparently, on this particular Pacific Northwestern isle), but nearly all of what made the 1973 film such an unforgettable cinematic experience is lost in translation, not least of all Paul Giovanni's mystifyingly ominous, folk-inspired score. Do yourself a favor: Go rent Hardy's original film, watch it, and then try and get it out of your head. You never, ever will.

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