Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, this content will likely be unpopular.
There are films that are remembered for the right reasons, and films that are remembered for the wrong reasons. The 2006 remake of The Wicker Man decisively falls within the latter category, remembered for all of the qualities that most horror filmmakers try to avoid at all costs. Also known as the film that sparked a thousand memes, The Wicker Man is a sort of twisted Nicolas Cage masterpiece.
Yes, it’s an inferior reworking of the original’s story, and yes, it contains a number of unintentionally funny horror movie moments. What’s more, although Nicolas Cage’s performance in The Wicker Man is often mocked, it’s actually an important part of the film’s charm. Cage has since claimed that the film was intentionally funny, and that those who criticized its more laughable moments were missing the point.
The Wicker Man tells the story of Edward Malus (Cage), a cop traumatized by his inability to save a child from a freak accident involving a speeding truck and a flaming car. When Malus is contacted by his ex-fiancée asking for his help locating her missing daughter, he sets off to the isolated island community of neo-pagans in which she lives to try to help. However, upon arriving, Malus begins to suspect the locals of a sinister plot involving ritual sacrifice, and he’s also casually told that the missing child is his daughter (it sounds like a plot twist, but it really isn’t).
The twists and turns in The Wicker Man‘s story build an atmosphere of tension and unease that’s compounded by Cage’s erratic performance. From the first scene of the film, he makes vaguely nonsensical utterances that make Malus sound like a poorly-programmed android (telling a child that picking up dolls from the road is “all part of the job” and practically screaming in a teacher’s face when she tells him her name (it’s Rose, as if that matters). It’s somewhere in the juxtaposition between The Wicker Man‘s interesting story and its bizarrely-written script that Cage’s performance transforms the film into something else entirely: it feels less like a horror movie and more like the documentation of Malus’ descent into madness.
Though the dialogue is disjointed and inhuman, The Wicker Man‘s story is well-adapted and remains strong. Its central mystery is reasonably airtight, and the subtle foreshadowing and thematic references add a genuine depth to the film that’s too often forgotten. Of course, it’s easy to miss all of that between Cage’s bouts of rudely berating his hosts and treating their customs with hostile indifference, but it’s all there.
The Wicker Man‘s final scenes are unforgettable, with its twist ending paving the way for one of the most insane Nicolas Cage performances committed to film. However, despite the fact that Cage’s screamed protests (“not the bees, not the beeeeeees!”) undermine the weight of the scene, it’s actually a powerful and thought-provoking development that speaks to the deeper parts of The Wicker Man‘s story. Whether that’s intentional or simply a leftover element of the original story doesn’t really matter: it’s there, and it enriches the experience.
The critical panning of The Wicker Man is at least partly unearned. Cage’s performance is odd, but it’s not inherently bad – it’s just turbocharged with the most erratic array of emotions imaginable. The film’s dialogue is hammy and unrealistic, but its story is generally enjoyable and boasts an interesting subtext about nature, death, and the importance of moving on from the past. Put simply, there’s much more to The Wicker Man than just the infamous bee scene, and that makes it a much more rewarding watch than it gets credit for.
Summary: The Wicker Man is far from a perfect film, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye. It may be confused as to exactly what it is, but it still manages to have both comedy and folk horror in spades.
Highlight: The film’s final scenes – in which Malus’ madness takes over and Cage sprints around the island in a bear costume punching women – are cinematic gold: they effectively defuse the tension in preparation for the final twist.