Nicolas Cage in: The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man

Released in 2006 ▪ Review posted November 24, 2013

“Well a very, very heavy, uh, heav-ay burtation tonight. We had a very daris…darrison…by let’s go ahead terrace tase and loose to the bit a head in pep.”

Serene Branson

Neil LaBute has no talent.

He’s just a guy who had the good fortune of writing a play, The Shape of Things, that happened to find popularity with a generation of theatrically uninspired, self-important 99%-ers, allowing him to transform his adequate playwriting skills into a movie career only slightly better than Uwe Boll’s.

I’ll wait until my generation of theater majors’ collective gasp dies down.

I can’t count how many times my peers—I did my time as a theater major in the early 2000s—chose to perform “cuttings” or “pieces” or “directors’ projects” from The Shape of Things. I remember one friend whose senior project, which she devoted her life to at the time, was based entirely on her fascination with this play.

For those not familiar with LaBute’s The Shape of Things, there are many options available to you. You can read the play, or watch a recording of the production that LaBute directed himself, or watch the feature film he also wrote and directed himself and which starred the exact same cast from the play.

If you don’t have time for any of that nonsense, I suggest you watch this three-minute Portlandia sketch that covers the exact same ground, but is also entertaining.

Just how LaBute continues to make films despite his record is beyond comprehension. How he continues to get green lights on unnecessary remakes is also baffling. However, we live in a world where Godzilla has been made and remade at least six times (1954, 1956, 1977, 1985, 1998, next year).

The Wicker Man is LaBute’s remake of the creepy, British morality tale from 1973 with the same title, but a totally different plot. The original involves a bunch of neopagans duping a devout Christian into isolating himself on their island, and how his adherence to the tenets of his own religion results in the villagers’ choice to sacrifice him to the gods of the fruit harvest.

LaBute’s new The Wicker Man is similar in that Nicolas Cage gets stuck on an island and dies at the end. All religion and morality is stripped from the movie and replaced with clumsy metaphors about female empowerment and the life cycle of honeybees.

It’s OK if you don’t believe me. I wouldn’t believe me either. It’s real, though. Real and awful.

It’s not awful in the sense of The Room—a movie so entertainingly bad it has for some people replaced The Rocky Horror Picture Show as the best so-bad-it’s-good movie. It’s not awful in the sense of that canker on your gum that you can’t stop running your tongue over because even though it hurts, it hurts in a satisfying way. It’s more awful in the sense of genocide, in that any way you look at it, you can find no redeeming qualities.

The Wicker Man is also confusing. Characters do things for no reason, as if the story were being written on the fly by an imaginative five-year-old. I don’t know if it was his own acting choice or if he was just directed this way, but Nic can’t seem to decide if he’s humble, earnest, and confused, or screaming, demanding, and empowered.

What’s most interesting is how he’ll turn on a dime. There’s literally a scene where he quietly asks the local innkeeper to take him in for the night and then suddenly starts screaming to the rest of the inn that he’s going to interrogate every person there. It bewilders the mind how anyone would think this is acceptable, socially or cinematically. Student films are, on average, better than this movie.

The pacing, editing, and writing are terrible. How could a Tony Award–nominated writer create something so anomalous? The film begins with a full 15-minute segment that ends in Nicolas Cage’s character failing to save a little girl from a car fire that is never once explained, and yet is constantly referenced in flashbacks. I suppose the viewer is meant to infer from the flashbacks that the accident haunts Cage’s character, but with nothing else to go on, and no other apparent connections between the flashbacks and whatever’s happening currently, you are left even more confused. I swear, David Lynch has made films that are easier to follow than this.

Honestly, the worst sin of The Wicker Man is that it isn’t even scary. I don’t know how you would remake a horror film and strip it completely of anything creepy, yet LaBute does it spectacularly here. This movie could be a lesson in how not to create suspense. It’s like a soccer mom’s take on Halloween.

Nicolas Cage is completely lost here. He’s acting in a directionless environment. His character establishes relationships with the female bee farm workers, only to start punching them in the face later. Also, somehow, he is boring to watch.

The screenplay, which purposefully borrows dialogue from the original film, but re-contextualizes it to fit LaBute’s all-new plot, supplied Nic’s character with no emotional path, so Nic apparently decided just to goose the “acting” button whenever he deemed it appropriate. This film was nominated for several Razzie Awards, including Nicolas Cage and his bear suit for Worst On-Screen Couple.

On the topic of women getting punched in movies: If a male character is going to punch a female character in the face, it has to be done with extreme prejudice. It is a charged cinematic choice. We live in a society where women are still paid less than their male peers, a world where in some places women are forbidden to leave the house without being accompanied by a husband or father, and must have their faces entirely covered. If your piece of art has a man punching a woman in the face, it damn well better be making a good point.

For instance, in Drive Angry (to be reviewed in the future), the female lead is punched in the face by her abusive boyfriend several times, but she fiercely and capably fights back, and is ultimately portrayed as stronger physically, emotionally, and intellectually than her attacker. In The Wicker Man, Nic just punches some women. It’s horrible.

LaBute might have been going for some kind of pro-woman statement, as the men were always shown as soiled, timid “worker bees” and the women are the clean, empowered “queen bees,” but instead his attempts at feminism work against him. The film becomes the perplexing equivalent of your white friend who does something unintentionally racist and then becomes so terrified of being thought of as racist that he starts listing his black friends.

Do not under any circumstances watch this movie.

How was the movie?
How was Nic Cage’s acting?
The worst yet. Truly, it’s regrettably bad
Did his performance make the movie worse?
Yes, but also for many other reasons