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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ten Years Later... The Wicker Man (2006)

Director: Neil LaBute
Starring: Nicolas Cage

Not the beeeeeeees! What can one even say? The Wicker Man is a bad movie. It's a bad movie in ways that are extraordinary and which set it apart from other bad movies. It's a bad movie in such a way that it is like a gift to those who sit down to watch it. It's a bad movie in ways that you can't fully understand and appreciate unless you see it - or see it's craziest parts. I'm genuinely tempted to just post this video:

and call it a day. If you've never seen the movie, don't worry - seeing these clips out of context makes absolutely no difference. No amount of context could make those moments not seem crazy.

The Story

Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) is just a nice guy who wants to help people. That's why, when he receives a letter out of the blue from his ex-fiancee asking for his help in locating her daughter, who has gone missing on a privately owned island where a community of neo-pagans live, he drops everything to take the case. Unfortunately, his kindness is repaid with hateful feminine mind games as this island full of women closes ranks and plots to ritualistically sacrifice him - but not before driving him utterly and completely insane first.

The View From 2006

The Good: "As it is, LaBute has cleverly repurposed his creepy source material. This Wicker Man, which wasn't screened for critics, is a nutty atonement for the gender assaults of his filmmaking and playwriting past... Of course, he's saying sorry with two fingers crossed behind his back. And the deception is a guilty pleasure. " - Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

The Bad: "The original Wicker Man had its flaws, particularly in the lumpy pacing. LaBute's thoroughly inessential remake not only lovingly reproduces those flaws, it introduces a slew of new ones, in the process turning a cultishly creepy classic into a dull and windy farce." - Tasha Robinson, The AV Club

The View From 2016

The good thing about The Wicker Man is that it's so sublimely bad that it can only age well and thus it remains supremely entertaining a decade after the fact, having lost none of its luster (for lack of a better word). The bad thing is that it's difficult to tell whether the things that make it so amazing are intentional or accidental. The Wicker Man is either one of the most boldly and baldly misogynistic movies ever made, or it's a brilliant take down of misogyny, reducing it to the clownish incoherence that it truly is. Because it's from Neil LaBute, I feel like there's a decent chance it's the former, yet the level of commitment to ridiculousness on display from the actors leads me to believe that it could be the latter. I mean, Cage might just be running around doing his thing at full tilt, but I have a hard time believing that Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker, and Frances Conroy aren't in on the joke.

The subtext of the story is so close to the surface that it's basically text. Edward is quickly established as a "good man." He's a cop who will stop everything to pick up a doll that's dropped out of a car window and chase down the car in order to return it to the little girl who has lost it. He's the kind of guy who will just up and go to the assistance of an ex-girlfriend even though she broke his heart and then put everything into investigating what's happened to her daughter even before he's told that he's the little girl's father. He's introduced reading a self-help book called "Everything's Okay" and that's exactly the effect that he wants to have on the world. He wants to make everything okay. He just wants to help, which is why the film becomes more hilarious the more frustrated he gets at the fact that none of these women will give him a straight answer, and just starts screaming everything he says. By about the middle of the film, the "nice guy" veneer starts to crumble and everything he says to a woman might as well be followed by him muttering "fucking bitch" under his breath. By the end of the movie, he's just running around punching a bunch of women in the face in succession. From his perspective, women are evil and their goal is to destroy you, but only after driving you thoroughly crazy (though interestingly, one might argue that from the perspective of the women he's someone who forces himself onto private property and stays there after being told multiple times that his presence isn't wanted, who asserts his supposed authority even though as a cop he has absolutely no jurisdiction on the island, demands accommodation and later access to people's homes, goes around the island telling its residents that they way they live is wrong, screams in every woman's face, and then starts with the punching, making him exactly the kind of guy they went to the island to get away from in the first place).

Then there's the whole business with the bees. In a bee colony, there's the Queen (Burstyn's character), the workers (such as the characters played by Conroy and Parker), the laying worker bees (such as Edward's ex-girlfriend and a troop of pregnant women who pass by Edward at one point), and the drones (all of the men on the island), who have no purpose except for their ability to assist in reproduction. Edward himself becomes a drone and is specifically referred to as such, and the colony on the island functions like a bee colony where the male inhabitants, who can't speak and are subservient to the women who form the society's majority, are mainly there to assist in reproduction, and the fate of babies who are born male is left vague. Edward himself is allergic to bees, which makes it all the more telling that he's drawn to the island by what is essentially a honeypot (and then is brought to his doom while wearing a bear suit - poor Pooh Bear!) and in the end is literally attacked by bees so that he will be subdued as he's transported to the "wicker man."

When it comes to The Wicker Man, I believe that there can be no middle ground. You either think it's stupid and annoying, which is a valid position given that the plot is, in fact, very, very stupid and given that Cage is dialed up to 100 in his performance and yet presented as the only truly sane person in this sea of crazy bitches; or you find it supremely entertaining because it's just so bizarre and over the top that you can hardly even believe that someone committed this shit to paper, ironically or not. The Wicker Man is bad, but it's so bonkers that you just have to laugh. Whether you watch it in 2006, 2016, or 2026 and beyond, it will always be exactly what it is because time can neither tarnish its insanity nor improve upon it. It's a bad movie for the ages.

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