Saturday, September 02, 2006

Oh nooooo! Oh Jesus Chrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiist!

I'm kind of in a writing limbo at the moment. I've sent my latest (and hopefully last) draft of my horror script into the script reader for my feedback. That was a couple of weeks ago so it shouldn't take long. I've been making notes on a new script, coming up with new ideas, but I haven't been doing a huge amount that demands thinking through on the blog, hence its been all very quiet on the blog front. So with that in mind we have another film review!

Neil Labute is a director that has long been labelled a mysogonist. Now up front I'll say I don't consider myself sufficiently au fait with his work in order to be able to discuss intelligently how his latest, The Wicker Man remake, fits into his film making canon. So I shall have to limit this post to that film and its predecessor. However, there is a definite mysogonistic current flowing through the film that is difficult to ignore. Gone are the all singing, all dancing, all shagging pagans of the 1973 original. Instead we find a matriarchal colony of "sisters" led by Ellen Burstyn who, fed up with normal, male dominated society, set up a community where men are subservient, used mainly for heavy lifting and that awkward matter of procreation. Also for some reason they have had their tongues removed. Presumably to stop them nagging the women. The irony. The women on the island keep bees and produce their own honey. But when Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) arrives on the island and starts asking questions about a little girl that has disappeared, the women refuse to give him their "honey" and instead give him "sweetener." What complex psycho-sexual metaphors. The women here are liars, trapping the poor old men, turning them into slaves. On this evidence, Freud would have loved an hour with Neil Labute. The nuts and bolts of the story is essentially the same and the famous ending remains intact, though it feels like an eternity before we get there. It also feels like much of what was shot for that finale has been cut from the final film. The trailer showed Malus (who is allergic to bees) being made to wear a helmet filled with bees which was absent in the film. I had also read how the islanders now break his legs as part of a new, beefed up ending. In the film's most naff highlight, over shots of people walking we hear some cracks, some screams then we hear Cage cry out, "My legs, my legs." Either cut it out or keep it in. As it is it's just silly.

I could talk at length how the film blows it at pretty much every turn. A new prologue that gives our hero "issues" adds precisely nothing. A new epilogue is dreadful. Malus suffers flashbacks that are so pointless, irritating, devoid of any tension and offer the cheapest of cheap "scares" that I would have thrown my pick 'n' mix at the screen if it hadn't been so damn tasty. Some of the famous scenes remain, the trip to the school with the empty table and chair, people popping up behind walls with masks on, but they fail to resonate. New scenes include Cage wandering down some sort of crypt for no real reason and while down there he of course suffers another flashback. Terrifying. Yes I could talk at length about these things, but to do that would be to ignore the one truly frightening, unsettling and downright creepy thing in the film. Nicolas Cage. His hair dyed jet black, his teeth unnervingly white and seemingly filed to a point, his skin weirdly saggy at the front yet stretched at the back, his tics coming to the fore at the most random times, it's as if he, also acting as executive producer, has decided to see if he can one-up the islanders in terms of creepiness. And you know what? He succeeds. At times it's like watching some sort of reality show in which an obviously disturbed mental patient has been let loose on a simple bee keeping community. Taken in that light, it becomes much more entertaining. He spends half the film cycling around on a bike, coming over hills into frame in shots that become increasingly hilarious. By the time he mugs a sister at gunpoint for her bike, starts punching the women at random and indeed throwing a few karate kicks for good measure, the whole thing is hilarious. A sequence where he runs from some CGI bees and ends up tumbling down a hill displays a gift for pratfalls and physical comedy I'm just not sure was appropriate in The Wicker Man. Similarly when he thinks he sees the girl he's after in the sea and dives in sideways with limbs flailing, you're having a great laugh but are also thinking, this isn't right...

The original Wicker Man has dated about as badly as it's possible for a film to date but it's still a great story with some fantastic scenes, a great central character and performance from The Equalizer. Sergeant Howie was a man of dignity, an everyman we were able to become invested in. He was also of course a man of strong religious belief and a virgin. Oh how I would have loved for Nicolas Cage to try and convince us he was virgin but alas it wasn't to be. Though that said, given how weird he is in this film it may not have been much of a stretch. The original also boasts a genuinely unsettling atmosphere and of course has THAT ending. I'm not so in love with it that I went into the remake with a scowl on my face and hate in my heart. Rather I went in with a kind of morbid curiosity. In the right role, Nicolas Cage is perfectly fine, though for many he seems to be an aquired taste. With this he has become cinema's strangest performer. Rent The Wicker Man remake on DVD, watch it while pissed and in between being bored silly, you'll have some great laughs at his expense.

By the way the main character is called Edward. And the little girl he has come to the island to find is called Rowan Woodward. Genius.