I don’t know what director Neil LaBute was going for with a remake of the 1973 British cult classic The Wicker Man, but it went very, very wrong.
In LaBute’s remake, traffic cop Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) is lured to Summersisle, an island off the coast of Washington state. His former fiancee, Willow Woodward, has asked him to investigate the disappearance of their daughter Rowan. On the island, he discovers a matriarchal bee-keeping society ruled over by Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn). Edward attempts to question the residents, but the women are hostile and the men can’t speak. He begins to fear that Rowan has been or will be sacrificed in order to ensure an abundant harvest.
The religious and sexual tensions and moody sensuality of the original film have been replaced with a battle of the sexes. LaBute’s Summersisle is a patriarch’s worst nightmare – a bunch of frightening, hostile women who look like archetypal lesbians or Mormon sister-wives. LaBute shoots straight for misogyny. The women rule and the men, whose tongues have been cut off, are just breeding lumberjacks. The film behaves as an absurd cautionary tale for what happens when women have power. Sadly, LaBute succeeds somewhat. When Edward started channelling Ike Turner and beating up the womenfolk, cheers came from some of the men in the audience.
All the women of Summersisle are evil, lying, and manipulative right down to the schoolgirls. I can’t help but wonder if LaBute is holding up a mirror to his own community, the Church of Latter Day Saints, with its patriarchy, unusual religious beliefs, and isolation. The young women of Summersisle even leave the island for a while to do their own kind of missionary work.
Part of what made the original film wonderful was the charming isle of Summerville that appeared to be a simple country town with a paganism that is nature-loving. LaBute’s Summersisle is a nightmarish and weird product of Hollywood. Throw in some clunky writing, bad dialogue, Ellen Burstyn in Braveheart makeup, and Nicolas Cage in a bear costume and you’ve got yourself a Razzie winner.