The Weaker Man

Oh Wicker Man, where is your sting? Looks like this remake is a bit of a cop-out.

Feature by Paul Gallagher | 13 Sep 2006
The original 'Wicker Man' was a flop when it first came out. Released in cinemas in 1973 to little fanfare and significantly cut from director Robin Hardy's intended version, it was only in later years that it began to gain a following on video, encouraged by Christopher Lee's comments that it contained his greatest screen performance. Now it stands as a genuine British cult classic; a disturbing and haunting film with a perfectly sustained atmosphere of dread, and hugely evocative of its period, from the soundtrack to the screenplay. It's a film that seemed, until recently, untouchable. Why would anyone want to remake it, and why would anyone let them?

Step forward Neil LaBute, director of the all-new 'Wicker Man', which is hitting cinemas worldwide right about now. At Comic-Con 06 LaBute said, "We're taking [the original] story and making it completely new. We've changed the island from a patriarchal society to a matriarchal society; the females are the workers, while the males are the drones." The original film saw Edward Woodward's devout Christian policeman, Sgt. Howie, facing off against Christopher Lee's terrifying pagan leader Lord Summerisle, on the remote Hebridean island of the same name. Anyone who's seen the DVD cover will realise that things don't turn out too happily for Howie (burnt copper, anyone?) but, more than just a straightforward horror, this was a film that explored notions of faith and doubt, sex and temptation as well as downright scary giant burning effigies. The re-creation of a patriarchal society, as LaBute mentions, was both chilling and fascinating. But modern popcorn-guzzling audiences would probably find it all a bit silly and irrelevant - it had singing too, you know.

The fact that LaBute has decided to turn the tables, sex-wise, is perhaps a pointer to why this film interests him, and also helps to draw a clearer line from his previous films to this one. He is largely known as a writer-director who is able to pin down the cruel ways in which men and women treat each other, with unflinching accuracy. Much like David Mamet (clearly an inspiration), his films are investigations into the lines of power between people. But whereas Mamet tends to dwell on language as the tool his characters use, LaBute is interested more in sex. This is most clearly exemplified in his films 'In The Company Of Men' and 'The Shape Of Things', and the original 'Wicker Man' - with its ritualised sex and phallo-centric society, it is ripe with potential for similar investigation. The big difference here is that where his previous films were small personal projects (the budget for 'Company Of Men' was $25,000!), this one is a major Warner Bros picture with a $40m price tag. In other words, he may not have had quite so much creative freedom. Judging by the trailer - though there are some scenes lifted directly from the original - this version seems to have more generic horror overtones than one would hope (killer bees and a demonic child feature quite prominently in the promotion of this new film; perhaps less layered subtlety than the original then?).

So despite the potential to be interesting, it's likely that this remake will go for the quick thrill rather than anything deeper (Nicolas Cage - not a man known for his subtle performances - is the lead actor). The fact that it's been rated 12A is surely an indicator of this; it's the rating of choice for movies that want the biggest audience, not films like the original 'Wicker Man' that seriously tackle adult themes. Looks like we may have to stick with the first version - or more precisely, if you're disappointed by this film, go and check out the original. It's almost certainly better.
Dir: Neil LaBute
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn
Release Date: September 1st
Cert: 12A