Best of Yakmala: The Wicker Man

Let’s just start with the video:

These scenes work almost exactly the same in context. Of course, our context is the the Nicolas Cage vehicle The Wicker Man. Which, I suppose, is a film without context.

The 1973 original Wicker Man with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee is a classic. It’s one of those, “the northern villagers are crazy” horror stories the British Isles do so well. It’s also a musical. That’s right, a horror movie musical and all of the songs are about pagan sex.

This is from one of the musical numbers

Put all of that out of your mind as Neil LaBute recreates The Wicker Man for an American audience. Instead of “northern villagers” being crazy, we get “women.” In the world of Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man, all women are the same. They have evolved. There are many copies.

And they have a plan.

The Women of Summersisle

The movie opens with Nic Cage doing his best Electra Glide in Blue impression. He’s a CHP officer with the improbable name Edward Malus. After failing to save a woman and her child, Malus recieves a letter from his long lost love Willow. Her daughter Rowan has gone missing and she needs Malus’s aid. She also lives on a tiny island in Washington called Summersisle. The officer is eager to go as he is still recovering from a recent trauma; he failed to save a mother and her young daughter from a burning car.

Getting there is no easy task. The island can only be reached by seaplane and the local pilot is reticent to take a visitor over. Once there, Malus proceeds to be generally condescending to the population of Summersisle. He also likes to throw his badge around a lot and claim he’s on official police business. Apparently, a CHP Officer’s authority extends across all of US 1 and nearby islands.

His investigation goes slowly as all the women of the island are unhelpful and the men refuse to talk to him. Talking with Willow, he learns Rowan is also his own child and search becomes frantic. He soon assembles clues that lead him to believe she will be sacrificed because the honey crop — the islands chief export — failed last year.

After asking Willow how Rowan’s doll got burned, Malus starts stealing bikes at gunpoint, breaking into homes, and finally, attacks a women for her bear costume, as seen in the video. He does this to get into the women of Summersisle fertility whatsits and save his little girl. Unfortunately for Mauls, it turns out all the women of the island have been league from the start to get Edward Malus. Isn’t that just like women? So they break his legs, sting him with bees (turns out he’s allergic) and string him up in the Wicker Man where he burns to death. It is hoped his sacrifice will produce honey.

If Only National Treature Had a Scene Like This

So why do I think this film hates women? Let’s see. I think the damning moment is when a couple of the fertility revelers turn out to be the woman and daughter that supposedly burned to death at the beginning of the film! Gasp! They were pretended to die so Malus would be emotionally distraught. The little girl even looks like Rowan. Besides the big shock moment, the film features the women of Summersisle trading knowing glances and smiles. The whole thing is pretty over the top. LaBute’s previous work has a streak we can generously called “misogynistic,” but The Wicker Man takes it to a new extreme. Here, every single women in the film is part of the plan to kill Malus. Even a friendly fellow cop back in California.

So if this was LaBute’s intent, why is the film a “Best of” selection? His view of women completely fails to be chilling in any way, shape, or bear. The original film gets a great deal of its tension from the legitimate clash of cultures between an urbanized Catholic cop and a small pagan highland community. In the end, that cop turns out to be the bad guy, imposing his views on a town that gets along fine, for the most part, without modernity. LaBute tries to transpose that genuine culture conflict into the war of the sexes, which blunts the clash as Washington ultimately is not that different from California. Also, because we don’t have the same history as Europe, the women of Summersisle come off fairly modern. The only palpable difference between the island and the rest of the country is its recognized matriarchy. Oooh! Scary!

Therefore, all of Cage’s sarcasm, vitriol, and fisticuffs make him appear as bad or worse than the women who are preventing him from doing his job … out of his juristiction.

Instead of horror, what is laid bare (ha! that’s two now) is LaBute’s own fears of a completely female-ran society where men are relieved of their tongues and women become a uniformed mob relentless in the persecution and control of the other. In The Wicker Man is the belief that all women are just one woman out to emasculate, cripple, and then immolate man.

He then used Nicolas Cage, a man who often acts like his head is constantly on fire, to be his spokesperson. It’s a daft little film that I’m sure he’d love to call a dark comedy, but like Tommy Wiseau, LaBute laid himself out a little to naked to believe that this anything else but his darkest nightmare made into cinema.

Also, this film is full of more wackiness than the video let’s on. Including Leelee Sobieski trying on three personalities in the span of one scene and twin girls repeatedly saying “Phallic symbol. Phallic symbol.” There’s plenty more, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Despite the film’s dodgy politics, it is the perfect Yakmala movie because it fails to even make its own agenda convincing. Everything is as obvious as the following still from the film:

Also, it has Cage shouting the immortal line, “No, not the bees!” What could be more perfect than that?

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About Erik

Erik Amaya is the host of Tread Perilously and the former Head Film/TV writer at Bleeding Cool. He has also contributed to sites like CBR, Comics Alliance and Fanbase Press. He is also the voice of Puppet Tommy on "The Room Responds."
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