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The Wicker Man: Now with 10 gallons of extra suck - Not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be
The Wicker Man: Now with 10 gallons of extra suck
Apropos of nothing, when I started this post this morning, Yahoo's front-page "news" story teaser read "Check out these toupee-sporting infants, plus cupcakes that are almost too lovely to eat." WTF?

Anyway. Saw Neil LaBute's remake of The Wicker Man last night. I'm overly fond of the original, though it's a flawed and kind of crappy movie. I was vaguely hoping for an update that would follow the original story but fix the glaring pacing problems. Instead, I got a really poorly made film that kept all the pacing problems and added in a lot of generic horror-movie "Boo!" moments and what felt like 20 flashbacks to a scene that wasn't that exciting the first time. Nicolas Cage plays a cop who witnessed a nasty accident (seen in almost complete detail in the trailer) and is now obsessed with little blonde girls in pigtails, in that he has spooooky nightmares about them dying in shocking ways whenever the film needs everyone to jump. There's practically no tension in the movie, just Cage running around an island asking everyone questions about a missing girl and seemingly not noticing that they're giving him the blandest, dumbest, most evasive answers possible, when they aren't making noncommittal noises like "Hnh." and staring at him with their big, blank cow eyes. Or, well, maybe he notices, because he gets progressively bitchier as the movie wears on. But he doesn't DO anything about it, like, say, ask follow-up questions.

This version of the film has no internal logic. Cage is allergic to bees, so naturally when he visits an island known for its honey production, he gets stung by bees and passes out. He wakes up in the home of the island's leader, Lady Summerisle, with the island's doctor sitting by him. He says "Did you use my allergy medication?" She says "No, I dealt with the problem in the ollllld manner." Then they stare blankly at each other, because he won't ask the obvious follow-up question, and she isn't about to volunteer any information. The whole exchange just falls flat. Finally, he says "I'm here to see Lady Summerisle."


Ahem. But the whole movie is like that, full of "Wait, WHAT?" moments where people say things that make no goddamn sense, or just completely fail to say the obvious things that WOULD make sense.

Also, BOO! A horrible thing just happened! Oh, no wait, it's a dream. But BOO! Another horrible thing just happened! Oh, that was a dream too. Hey, guess what? BOO! This is the one trick the film has up its sleeve.

The only possible reason to see this film is either if you didn't see the original and don't know about the big ending. Or if you're hoping for a modern equivalent of the original film's naked, dancing Britt Ekland. (Nope, no nudity in this one at all.) Or if you're curious to know whether the remake ends the same way, or wusses out.

SPOILER!!!OMG!: Yup, it ends in the same way. No wussing out.

Though it does the same thing in a phenomenally stupid way — the islanders close in on Cage, the screen blacks out, and then you hear crunching, bone-breaking noises and him screaming. Then, just to make sure no one wonders exactly what just happened, or feels remotely creeped out by their own imagination, he yells "Ahhh! My legs! My legs!" The audience giggled incessantly through this because it was so over-the-top ridiculous. Given that there's no footage to go with any of this, it feels very much like something LaBute added in post, after some wiseacre in a test screening said "Why doesn't he just run away?" Especially when the islanders hoist him into the you-know-what… by hanging him up by his supposedly broken legs. THEN they do the thing from the first movie.

Anyway. It's a bad sign when the audience is laughing throughout the big, dramatic confrontation at the end of your tense thriller.

It's a worse sign when the second the film ends, someone behind you stands up and yells "TOTAL GARBAGE!"

But someone did. And dayum, but he was right.

My formal A.V. Club review is here, if you want the less ranty and spitty version for some reason.

I'm-a feelin': nauseated disgusted

42 people still haven't weakened / Isn't it a great life?
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theferrett From: theferrett Date: September 1st, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well at least they burn Nicholas Cage. That's a draw for some people.
rollick From: rollick Date: September 1st, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I remember when "OMG Macaulay Culkin totally dies in this film, ha ha!" was used as a draw to get some people to go see My Girl. I didn't fall for it then, either.
chrispiers From: chrispiers Date: September 1st, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the review and big thanks for the spoiler, honestly. I liked the original a lot, especially the music and all I was curious about was how the remake would end. The answer? Stupidly, apparently.
rollick From: rollick Date: September 2nd, 2006 03:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know, I really wanted to like the music in this version. (Instrumental background music; there's no singing.) Primarily because it was composed by Angelo Badalamenti, whom I much admire. But I just couldn't. Far too much creepy background whispering going on through the whole damn movie.
niemandsrose From: niemandsrose Date: September 1st, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was kind of upset on principle when I heard that they weren't just going to be pagans, they were going to be new-age Pacific Northwest FEMINIST pagans. Cause women? honestly? are the scariest thing of all. /spits
rollick From: rollick Date: September 2nd, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
They aren't really feminists. More like man-hatin', castratin' bitches. We never actually get proof that they don't educate their men and that they cut their tongues out at birth, but none of the men speak, even when spoken to, there seems to be no socializing between genders, the schoolroom is female-only (while the boys of schooling age are out working in the forests), and of course this all leads inevitably to torturing and killing men as sacrifices.

All of this could have been kind of cool if presented in a less wholeheartedly misogynistic, sexually predatory, joyless, loveless, "this is what happens when women are in charge" kind of way. As it is, the film is just almost completely missing the sense of happiness and contentment that made the first one interesting.

Also, don't get me started on all the insect imagery, because of course there is no precedent for a female-led society except for beehives and anthills.
toysdream From: toysdream Date: September 1st, 2006 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know, your Onion review is almost more damning. Like this bit:

But even the spectacle of Cage running around the island punching women full in the face and screaming "Bitches!" isn't as problematic as Wicker Man's gigantic plot holes, interminable empty dialogue, cheap shocks, and uneven stabs at tension.

Wow, sounds like a definite must-see. Oh, wait, I mean the other thing.

I'm left with one question, though. D-plus? Why plus? :-)
rollick From: rollick Date: September 1st, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't get around to it in the review, like many things I didn't have room for in 400 words, but some of the Pacific Northwest imagery is just breathtakingly beautiful. That's a plus over a film that's this bad and that looks bad too.

And yeah, the review is more scathing — it's more concentrated and more of a conscious critical take than a personal "GYAH! THIS BAD!" sort of thing. I just needed to get the other stuff off my chest.

"I'm here to see Lady Summerisle" indeed. Pfagh!
perich From: perich Date: September 1st, 2006 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
But wait - why do they kill him in this one? Is he a V-word, like his cop counterpart in the original?

And where's the whole Christian-vs-pagan tension? I imagine they toned that down a bit. If Nick Cage went around shouting, "But what about the one true God?" for 40 minutes it'd be comical in certain parts of the U.S. and taken way too seriously in others. But without that tension what do you have?
rollick From: rollick Date: September 1st, 2006 08:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
NOTHING. That's the problem.


No, he isn't a virgin, and they know it — if nothing else, he and the mother of the child he's looking for have clearly had sex, since they dangle the prospect that the child is his over him.

You've unerringly hit on my biggest problem with the movie. They kill him for the same reason they kill Woodward in the original — as a sacrifice to help their crops. But with far less reason, and no sense of poetic justice or narrative appropriateness at all. The whole thing at the end of the original, where they tell him he's the perfect sacrifice, because he came there of his own free will, and he's simultaneously a virgin, a king, and a fool, becomes a sort of lame "you came here of your own free will, and you have ties of blood with us." Because, you see, he slept with Willow.

Who, it's revealed, basically picked him up at random out in the world and screwed him in order to create that "tie of blood." Basically, the society's whole fascinating, archaic symbolism boils down to "she picked you up in a bar, so you are now bound to us and our land and the gods will find you pleasing." WTF? It makes no sense.

What makes even LESS sense is that after the sacrifice, you see Willow and another chick from the island picking up MORE young cops-to-be in a bar, clearly grooming them for sacrifice down the road. So… presumably they pick up a couple of guys every single year, just to make sure there are a few in the larder for the future in case the crops fail and they have the worst growing season on record AGAIN? Makes no damn sense, I tell you.

But mostly, it just seems terribly like Neil LaBute's twisted brand of reductive misogynism to reduce this happy, cooperative pagan society with a twisted traditional belief in sacrifice to a coven of evil man-enslaving bitches who seduce men AT RANDOM on a regular basis so they can kill them later.

Your icon is tremendously appropriate for the film.
roninspoon From: roninspoon Date: September 1st, 2006 09:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wait. What? Seriously? The antagonist's name is Summerisle? And she lives on an island? Did Stan Lee right the script?
rollick From: rollick Date: September 1st, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Alas, no. If he had, there would be more super powers.

The island itself is Summerisle; the Summerisle family are its traditional rulers/keepers. This is true in the original too.
From: vixyish Date: September 1st, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
But he doesn't DO anything about it, like, say, ask follow-up questions.

That drives me CRAZY in movies and TV. It's one of the few things I intensely dislike about the show Lost, which I otherwise love. Rousseau comes with dire warnings, say, and someone asks her about them, she says something like "Its purpose is that of all security systems. To protect something." "What?" "The island." And not a single one of them goes "What? From what? What the fuck does that even MEAN? MAKE SOME SENSE WOMAN."
rollick From: rollick Date: September 2nd, 2006 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I am so with you on that. It's one of my peeves about The 4400 as well. I mean, it's bad enough when people don't ask the important questions, but sometimes that's understandable — people get awkward with interrogations, or don't want to pry, or whatever. But when people don't ask the TOTALLY OBVIOUS, COMPLETELY HUMAN questions, like "Wait, what? That made no sense. Are you making fun of me, or do you just not know the answer, or what?" I want to smack them.

For me, the biggest recent example of this remains the film Birth, where five minutes of reasonably intelligent questioning would unravel the entire story. Instead, you get this sort of thing:

Nicole Kidman: Who are you, strange little boy?

Strange little boy: I am the reincarnation of your dead husband.

Nicole Kidman: …ohhh.

[Slow, dramatic fade-out. Fade-in to another scene, hours later, where it rapidly becomes clear that no one has had any sort of reasonable conversation in the interim.]

Family matriarch: And who are you, strange little boy?

Strange little boy: I am the reincarnation of her dead husband.

Family matriarch: …how strange. You can't be.

Strange little boy: But I am.

[Slow, dramatic fade-out. Fade-in to another scene, THE NEXT DAY, with still no sign that anyone has spoken in the interim. Repeat until frustrated beyond measure.]
yendi From: yendi Date: September 1st, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

You know, when I heard that Neil LaBute was directing and writing it, I figured there was some hope. But it actually sounds worse than I first imagined, back when I assumed the director would be a nobody.
rollick From: rollick Date: September 1st, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suspended judgment on the LaBute front, because this seemed so unlike anything of his I'd seen or read about before. Now I suspect that the big link is just the "women are evil and untrustworthy and will break your balls for fun" theme.
cassielsander From: cassielsander Date: September 1st, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I mostly agree, but for some reason feel the need to defend the film a tiny bit. I actually liked most of the flashbacks, just because I enjoyed noting the way the details differed each time and what that might mean. But by about 3/4ths through they either ran out of ideas or I couldn't see the differences and they just became routine.

And I still think a lot of the scenes which evoked laughter were supposed to, both his violence against women and their violence against him I think get that reaction because they all seem to deserve what they get for being such asses to one another.

Lord, I'm defending a remake. And one I certainly wouldn't want anyone to pay full price to see.

My personal favorite loud after-film comment (from the same guys?) is still: "I stayed up until 10 to watch THIS?"
rollick From: rollick Date: September 1st, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hee! I totally missed that one.

I felt the exact opposite way about the flashbacks. It really seemed to me like LaBute ran out of things to do with his main story (which is inexplicable, given how many steps he left out in the tracking-the-mystery plot) so he just kept recycling that crash footage to no meaningful end. And realizations like "Oh, there are bees in the car this time" and "Oh, this time he CAUSED the explosion" weren't significant enough to make it worth sitting through the same shots over and over.

I do agree that most of the scenes that evoked laughter were meant to, like when he punches the inn woman, or confronts the teacher on her bike. (Not Rebecca Pigeon, by the way, but someone I'm not familiar with.) They're comic overkill, and seem designed that way, though I think it's a poor idea to deflate your dramatic tension when you have so little of it to begin with.

But when people laughed when he attacked the woman next to Rowan? I'm not buying that that one was supposed to be funny — I think it was a shock-laugh over a man clubbing an unarmed, skinny little lady who wasn't physically threatening him in any way. Nor am I buying that people were supposed to laugh when the crowd is closing in on him, or during the leg-breaking noises. I think those laughs were more because it was all so badly staged and ridiculous. And even if they were intentional, that's a terrible time to get your audience laughing, especially when you consider the gut-wrenching horror of the original film at those moments.
cassielsander From: cassielsander Date: September 1st, 2006 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
On the other hand, I agree with your Onion review in pretty much every detail.
rollick From: rollick Date: September 1st, 2006 09:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yay! Let's mark the calendar, because when does THAT ever happen?
donkey_hokey From: donkey_hokey Date: September 1st, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hooray! One more movie I won't have to go see because it sounds like an utter piece of crap. It does make me want to go re-watch the original, even though I haven't seen it in more than 22 years, and I vaguely remember being somewhat bored. I remember that a lot of the pagan scenes seemed inserted for the voyeuristic "ooh, ahh, look at what the pagans do" interest, much like many of the scenes in "Freaks".
cassielsander From: cassielsander Date: September 1st, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you remember accurately. And as with Freaks, I think they have more to do with the fact that people still watch it then anything in the plot or acting does.

I actually think that the movie is sort of an unloved godparent to the neopagan movement; I think that althought he pagans turn out bad in the film it still probably made modern paganism conceivable to a generation that had no visual reference for it.

lizardling From: lizardling Date: September 1st, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeek. Total running away screaming from that movie, then.
normanrafferty From: normanrafferty Date: September 2nd, 2006 03:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Goldarnit, can we STOP with the "scary prepubescent girls", already? Resident Evil, Silent Hill, The Ring, Wicker Man, and there's more that I didn't think of yet.
parthenia14 From: parthenia14 Date: September 2nd, 2006 07:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I've never seen the original, but I kind of like the sound of it because of the Scottish paganism (because yes, that sort of makes sense), the idea of the ultra-religious virgin (believe or not that also makes sense), plus all the stuff about Edward Woodward nearly burning to a crisp. There are even some real islands called the Summer Isles, in Northern Scotland.

I have a free DVD of it that I've yet to watch though judging by my husband's freaked out response to Constantine, I might be watching it by myself.

Taking out the religious part would appear to remove the entire skeleton from the remake. Oh, wait. Hollywood remake logic.

robling_t From: robling_t Date: September 2nd, 2006 08:14 am (UTC) (Link)
...Y'know, this is why I've only seen a handful of movies this year -- the reviews are too scary...
42 people still haven't weakened / Isn't it a great life?
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