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April 7, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #66 - Neil LaBute's The Wicker Man

I KNOW.  You're already clicking away from here, and I don't blame you.

No really, come back here.  This is no April Fool's joke, I swear.  Just stop being such a Kanye and lemme finish.....

Like you - if you're sane and awesome, that is - I adore The Wicker Man.  Yes, I'm talking about Robin Hardy's 1973 masterpiece, which saw the late Edward Woodward match moral wits with Christopher Lee on a strange potentially pagan island.  It is undoubtedly one of the most uinque, fascinating, intriguing, and memorable films ever made.  I need to be clear from the start here: I am in no way endorsing the idea that this version of The Wicker Man is a) a good remake of that film or b) a good movie.  But as its release nears a five year anniversary, I'd be remiss not to point out what the film has become.
This afternoon, I asked FMWL's Facebook likers and my own Twitter followers what movie they think is the last five years' version of Plan 9 From Outer Space.  If the reference doesn't work for you, what I felt I was asking is "What movie from the last five years do you feel is both terribly inept and at the same time as watchable as a gigantic train wreck can be?"

I got a few answers, most notably Tommy Wiseau's The Room, Uwe Boll's House of the Dead, The Happening, The Love Guru, and Ax 'Em.  At the same time, I was surprised to find that no one mentioned Birdemic: Shock and Terror, as I assumed it and The Room (which is actually from 2003, but became popular recently) to dominate the voting.  Along the way, I had most certainly already planned to cast my vote for LaBute's vision of The Wicker Man.
This Wicker Man is about as bad as you could expect a remake to be.  It loses the religious edge of its predecessors, lets Nic Cage hilariously overact his way through the third act, adds in a ton of random violence against women, and has the pacing of three Plan 9 From Outer Spaces.  Oh, and it takes on a useless teaser of a final scene (featuring recent Oscar nom James Franco, even!), just in case someone thought a DTV sequel would be in the future.  It takes every wrong step imaginable....and yet it's permeated nerd culture quickly.

Like Plan 9, the film's flaws - primarily regarding Cage's delivery of lines like "HOW'D IT GET BURNED?  HOW'D IT GET BURNED?" and "NOT THE BEES! NOT THE BEES!!!" and the amount of spinkicks and bear-suited beatdowns he delivers to these freaky communal women - have become their own kind of beast and taken over several corners of nerd culture.  The former Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew quickly took a shot at the film through their Rifftrax enterprise, while animated gifs of Cage's bear suit antics quickly spread across message boards.  When YouTube became a sensation, clips of the film - including remixes of Cage's dialogue and hordes of imitators followed.  LaBute's film was even extended for DVD, letting in the now infamous "Not the Bees" - which was only heard and not seen in the theatrical version - loose upon us all.
The presence of Cage - the former Oscar winner and blockbuster action hero - only strengthens the connection to Ed Wood's "masterpiece" in my eyes.  Though it was unknown at the time, Cage spent much of the last decade fighting financial demons which lead to the actor filing for bankruptcy within the last couple of years.  Cage's path to The Wicker Man parallels the presence of the late Bela Lugosi - who also a big name that had fallen on hard times - in Wood's film.  The actor later admitted he realized the film was "absurd" while making it, and it's easy to see that when watching the film on screen.

Most fault Cage for where this Wicker Man ended up, and it's hard to defend his performance.  But I like to look at Cage's performance like I would look at the performance of a quarterback who's down by 30 points in the first quarter.  He had nothing to lose once things were out of control, and he had to finish the game.  Cage seems to be trying his hardest to make each line he reads seem increasingly dramatic and powerful, but the audience's interest is already gone from the derivative story, poor pacing, and ridiculous characters.  Cage is left as the most talented sailor on a sinking ship, and his frantic attempts to save the proceedings look comical to the onlooker who already knows that all are doomed.  Quite frankly, I don't think Nic Cage - as over-the-top as he is - is this movie's problem.  In fact, he's probably the best thing that could have happened to it; it'd be a footnote in remake history without his performance.
On the other hand, I can't imagine how LaBute thought anything he did with this film was a good idea.  The once acclaimed writer/director fashioned this film his own way, and the results can be seen as a misfire by even those unfamiliar with the original film.  This is a production that was certainly not needed, but LaBute dove in and started changing the pieces around to his liking anyway.  There's a lesson to be learned by all filmmakers trapped inside this version of The Wicker Man, and LaBute missed it entirely.  Instead, he offered up one of the most misguided films of recent memory - which only adds to the comedy value of the film that he thought should be taken seriously.

Again - this is a really, really, ridiculously bad movie.  I just finished rewatching it for this post, and I kind of want to call the whole thing off and say "Y'know what, eff The Wicker Man remake.  That flick is the worst thing I've ever seen".  But that's the beauty of a movie that's truly so bad it's good.  It leaves you intrigued by how anyone could get things so wrong, charmed by the ridiculous unintentional humor that's trapped within, and completely exhausted by how bad the whole thing is.  Those are the same feelings I get when I watch Plan 9 From Outer Space, and they are echoed completely by Neil LaBute's The Wicker Man.  And, as much as I hate to admit it, I kind of love the fact that a film can do that to me.
Long live the bees!

(By the way, I need to know - How DID it get burned??????)


-Lou said...

You do wonder if, as filming went on, the cast and crew began to exchange knowing "We're going off a cliff here" looks. But really, once the cameras were rolling, I don't think anything could have been done to change course. The film was fated to be what it is.

deadlydolls said...

Here's the thing about Neil LaBute: The man is a raging misogynist. You can see it in everything he touches, from having men destroy a weak woman in The Company of Men to the eeeeeeevil Rachel Weis in The Shape of Things. The Wicker Man was his excuse to just mold women into the true enemy and have a man beat them up. See, it's OKAY if he's wearing a bear suit! Plus, they're all bitches anyway!

On one hand, it's kind of fascinating that a director could get away with it today. On the other, it's offensive, but because The Wicker Man is SO bad, it's more adorable than dangerous.