Is it just me?… Or is The Wicker Man a great remake?

In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film contributor Martyn Conterio asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is The Wicker Man a great remake?’

The Wicker Man remake by Neil LaBute is unjustly maligned. Its sorry reputation and dubious legacy is evident in countless snarky memes and YouTube clips of star Nicolas Cage yelling ‘Not the bees!’ and ‘How’d it get burned?’

Getting my Columbo on, I want to clear up one nagging but vital detail missing from the debate. Here’s the thing: The Wicker Man was never intended as a pure horror experience. Same goes for the 1973 original. Robin Hardy’s film is wilfully unclassifiable. I mean, it’s got lots of singing and dancing. Does that make it exclusively a musical? If labels must be applied, ‘black comedy’ fits best. To suggest that LaBute and his team were somehow ignorant – or failed to comprehend entirely – Hardy’s and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer’s intentions is frankly absurd. The snooty consensus being: how dare the bloody Yanks remaking a beloved British cult classic? Hold your horses there, amigos.

Remaining entirely respectful to the source material, the director refitted The Wicker Man to reflect his own thematic preoccupations: unfulfilled lives, male anxieties and misogyny. There are rewarding innovations, too. LaBute gave the unlucky cop, now called Edward Malus, a psychological makeover. The switch from a patriarchal to matriarchal setup is portrayed with visual motifs related to bees. The queen is Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn), the workers maintain the island’s idyllic community and the blokes, amusingly, are charged with the donkey work.

As the rozzer-to-be-roasted-alive, Cage bagged a Razzie nomination. Balderdash! The actor delivered one of his finest – and most knowingly funny – performances. Cage played the part like Jimmy Stewart having a breakdown. That he injected an undercurrent of pathos maybe confused matters. Are we supposed to laugh at this jerk or give him a hug? Either way, the fella is a world away from the Bible-thumping, prissy Sergeant Howie and a more engaging screen figure.

When Cage isn’t in a rage, stealing Molly Parker’s bicycle at gunpoint or karate-kicking Leelee Sobieski, we get treated to a nuanced (if admittedly eccentric) depiction of a lost soul incapable of reading the fairer sex. Note his body language around the female colleague – who clearly fancies him – in the opening scenes. He takes concern and kindness as tantamount to being harassed. Like many cops, Malus just isn’t a people person. As an officer of the law he is, however, imbued with authority and power. He’s also male and white. This cocktail provides a riveting subtext. Malus comes up against an island of feisty women wholly unimpressed with his folksy banter, chauvinistic attitude and eventual attempts to assert control through violent interactions. Spending so much time running around Summersisle like a headless chicken, he fails to notice the careful and deliberate process of emasculation. Call me weird, but I find this wicked ruse hilarious.

Popular opinion, the 3.6 IMDb score and 15 per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating can go take a long walk off a short pier. The Wicker Man is a great and worthy remake. Or is it just me?

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