Police officer Edward (Nicolas Cage) has been contacted by his ex-girlfriend Willow (Kate Beahan), who tells him that (a) they have a daughter named Rowan and (b) she’s missing. He heads down to Summersisle, a small island in Puget Sound, to find her. He runs afoul of a strange matriarchy of wannabe pagans who are having a hard time with their crops. After the unfriendly locals tell him either that Rowan doesn’t exist or that she’s dead, he’s left to wonder who’s lying. He begins to suspect a connection with human sacrifice and the failing crops, and the truth is more horrible than he could have imagined.
I don’t often like remakes, and initially I was dead-set against this one. I had fond memories of the original, and this film, while having many similarities, is just not as good. However, I watched the remake and the original together recently, and I may have changed my mind. I was all set to label Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man as an unnecessary remake, but now I’m not sure. It’s hard to beat Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt.
1973’s The Wicker Man concerns a Scottish island dominated by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee); it’s not a matriarchy, which eliminates some of the misogyny of the remake—the theme there seems to be that woman hate men and are irrational yet crafty, while men are good and strong. Then again, the women in the remake are powerful and dignified, while in the original they spend much of their time naked—but it doesn’t seem to be a patriarchal culture per se. In the remake, Edward punches a couple of women; I’m not sure if I should be offended or gratified that he is treating them like equals.
Another aspect I considered is the corniness factor, which both films have in spades. The original has the singin’est villagers you ever did see—they’re constantly breaking into a musical number. The remake has a haunting score by Angelo Badalamenti (best known for his work in David Lynch movies, and also Cabin Fever). The original has corny dialogue, but much of it is transferred over to the remake. My favorite unintentionally funny moment from 2006 (the unrated version) is when the baddies maliciously break Edward’s legs and he yells “Don’t move me!” My second favorite: “Not the bees! Aaaah!”
As a former Wiccan, a feature of both films that stands out to me is the portrayal of paganism. The original shows many real aspects of Wicca, such as the maypole, jumping over a flame, and love of nature. I understand Wiccans tend to hate this movie, and I don’t blame them—who wants their religion falsely associated with ignorance and sacrificing children? The townsfolk in the remake encompass less recognizable bits of Wicca; the only thing that I see is Sister Summersisle’s (Ellen Burstyn) triple-moon necklace (though it shouldn’t be three crescents, but two crescents and a circle to represent the waxing, waning, and full moon).
All gripes aside, the original is just that: original. The remake can copy the shocking ending and add more violence, but it’s still just a copy. However, both films are creepy, disturbing, and well-acted (Cage does the best he can with the goofy material, shut up, acting is hard!). Despite the corniness, both pose the possibility of modernity being detrimental: sure the townspeople are delusional (probably), but they work hard for what they have and Summerisle (and Summersisle) is undeniably peaceful. In the end, I recommend both films together—check them out if you’re in the mood for suspense and kids in creepy masks.