Heresy of the Week – The Wicker Man remake is a work of genius


how'd it get burnt

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

Though widely decried as a weird, disorganised, unnecessary mess of a film, the Nicholas Cage remake of The Wicker Man in fact knows exactly what it is doing. It is not only a good film, but actually exemplifies everything which a remake needs to be in order to have any hope of success.

When I was living in Brighton, in my University years, I lived just down the road from the Duke of York cinema. Aside from a heady mix of mainstream and independent films, it also put on semi-regular events, such as an all-night Lord of the Rings marathon which Ashleigh and I attended. One event — which I sadly didn’t attend, was a sing-along version of cult classic British horror film The Wicker Man. For Halloween, naturally.

It was a bizarre idea, but somehow that felt right. The 1973 version of the film was so off-beat, with such a sense of dropping over the edge of the map. So if a sing-along horror film was ever going to work, then this was the place for it.

So the almost-universally panned 2006 remake started out, in casting everyone’s favourite internet sensation Nicholas Cage in the central role, in good stead.

Much of the subsequent storm of criticism around the film is driven, it seems, from an inability on the part of audience and critics to get their heads around it. Cage is at his madcap finest, romping around the rural US countryside questioning people, going off on borderline psychotic rants, and dressing up as a bear to punch women in the face. It is surreal insanity.

Which is sort of the point. Recall the original, the sense that Howie is completely out of his depth in a place where nothing he knows is relevant any more. Britt Ekland’s dancing, for instance, or that weird folk singing. I didn’t see the original release, of course, but it isn’t hard to imagine that contemporary audiences shared that unsettling sense of other.

And this is where the remake does genuinely get the idea behind the original. It is updated to the modern day, yes, and transplanted to the US — likely because there are few places left in Britain as truly isolated as the story requires — but throughout the sense of being over the edge of the map is unfailingly present. One of the chief criticisms was that audiences didn’t know what to make of the film, but actually this serves more as an extension of the main character’s reaction.

The Wicker Man, like most horror films, is distinctly conservative. In the original, the antagonist wasn’t a person, but the pagan ways of the islanders’ ancestors. That remains in the remake, but is mixed in with a more modern enemy of conservatism; feminism. I’ll admit that the ideology within clunks a bit at times, but it is undeniably descended from the original.

The Wicker Man remake has done something that more remakes should aim for: not simply knowledge the original story, but understanding of what that story is about; in this case isolation, the sudden descent into an otherness where all of your social norms and understandings of the world don’t matter a damn. And being truly, irrevocably alone in a strange new place.

2 comments

  1. Off Beat!!!!! There is only one film called ‘The Wicker Man’, its primarily a horror but is also a murder mystery and a folk musical delving deep into unknown territory and the nature of Pagan sacrifice. This so-called-remake is an utter insult to everything that made the 1973 film a classic. I will burn every ounce of existence of this film to a replicated Wicker Man, it’ll just be as haunting as the 1973 film’s ending. The Nostalgia critic’s recent review however was quite funny.

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