Any movie Nicolas Cage touches instantly becomes a timeless work of art. He has a knack for interpreting scenes the wrong way, and in doing so inadvertently improves the projects he signs on to. From Face/Off to Vampire’s Kiss, the campy films he gets involved in are always immensely fun to watch. I do think he’s an incredibly talented actor; he just makes very odd choices. The Wicker Man, for example, is one of the those odd choices. This remake of a 1973 film would have been nothing more than forgettable horror/thriller fodder without the involvement of the stupendous Mr. Cage.
Cage plays motorcycle cop Edward Malus, an unstable man haunted by his failure to rescue a woman and her daughter from a burning car. When he’s contacted by his ex future-wife, Willow Woodward (Kate Beahan), he agrees to travel to Summersisle, an isolated island colony of bee-farmers, to help her find her missing daughter Rowan (Erika-Shaye Gair). When he arrives, Summersisle residents behave suspiciously with claims that Rowan never existed. These old-fashioned women are disgusted by Malus and his city-talking ways. He finds Willow, or Sister Willow, as she’s referred to in this bizarre cult, and they team up to investigate Rowan’s disappearance. But everyone acts in such an unusual way. First the inhabitants deny Rowan’s existence, then later imply that she was murdered; a sacrifice due to a poor honey harvest. Malus’ desperate need to find and rescue the girl is intensified when Willow – shockingly – reveals that Rowan is his daughter.
The more he searches, the more oddities he encounters, like the cult’s negative attitude towards men. There’s the school teacher who keeps a live crow in a classroom desk. He meets the island leader, Sister Summersisle, and discusses her philosophical justification for sacrificial murder. Technically, he’s an off-duty officer way out of his jurisdiction, but that doesn’t stop him from laying down the law. The more questions Malus asks, the fewer answers he gets. Eventually, this makes him angry. And when Nic Cage gets angry, he punches a lot of women.
Kicks them, too.
In the end (end = spoilers), it turns out that Sister Willow was in on the scam the entire time. She was sent to the mainland five years previously to breed with a man and, by the rules of their cult, sacrifice him by breaking his legs, forcing a mask of bees over his head, and then burning him to death inside a giant man made out of sticks. Wicker, you might say. Rowan was never missing or in danger of being killed, she was just the bait used to trap him. The justification for the ‘Rowan is missing’ charade is that, based on Summersisle doctrine, Cage must discover the Wicker Man of ‘his own free will,’ whatever that means. It would make a lot more sense if they just kidnap him and sacrifice him, but then the movie would only be ten minutes long. The added investigation plot was vital to pad the running time.
The narrative of this film leaves too many open-ended, unanswered questions. The reason for Malus’ sacrifice was due to a poor honey harvest the season before. But Willow had left five years earlier to meet him and get his seed. How did they know they would have poor crops five years later, and that they would require a human sacrifice? Perhaps they send a different woman out every year to get pregnant, and if there’s a bad crop five years later, they lure the corresponding father back to the island to give to the Wicker Man. This makes sense given the James Franco cameo at the end of the theatrical release. If this is how they live though, those are some really specific rules! What if the woman they send turns out to be infertile and doesn’t return with a baby? Who do they kill then? Why does it have to be a man from off the island? There are plenty of men ON the island, but none of them can speak for some reason. That means they’re good listeners, and most women love that.
They say it’s a sign of poor writing if your film or novel has any sequence of events that employ the ‘it was all a dream’ twist. It’s a sloppy way to create pointless suspense or to write yourself out of a corner. In a span of one minute, The Wicker Man exploits the stupidity of this trope not only once, but a second time as well! When Malus discovers Rowan’s body floating beneath a dock, he dives in to rescue her. But it’s too late. She’s dea- oh no, she’s not. He’s still sitting on the dock, it was just a daydream. Yes. He’s just sitting on the dock, holding Rowan’s dead bod- oh wait, that was a dream too! Wow, two in a row!
Hey, at least you don’t have to worry about child support.
Are the daydream sequences intended to have audiences question the sanity of Cage’s character? It’s hard to tell if anything we are seeing is really happening or if it’s in his imagination. In the opening moments of the film, for example, Malus is traumatized after witnessing the death of a young girl and her mother. They burn alive in a car after he fails to rescue them. But then his partner says there were no bodies found in the wreckage. So was this another daydream sequence? How does it tie in with the rest of the film? We do see the mother and daughter from the car wreck in the film’s final moments, alive and well on the island, but that could be another hallucination. There’s just too many answers the film fails to provide.
So the girl who may or may not have been in the car accident that may or may not have happened wears her hair and clothes very similar to Rowan and the other girls of Summersilse. This could be a coincidence, or perhaps there’s something more sinister at play. In the opening scene, the waitress in the diner also looks similar to Sister Rose (Molly Parker), the school teacher on the island.
Was casting these two similar looking women intentional or an oversight? I can only speculate because the events of the movie are too muddled and unclear. If this is a deliberate effort made by the filmmakers, that means the women of Summersisle were manipulating things from the beginning. That car accident is the reason Malus temporarily resigns from his job and is available to travel to Summersisle. Because of his trauma, he begins taking medication for depression. This sets the stage perfectly for a neurotic, paranoid Malus who will certainly find the Wicker Man of his own free will. Why else would that opening sequence be in there, if it didn’t have some relevance later on? I’m probably giving the movie too much credit, but maybe there’s more to this film than people realize?