Personally, I don’t do guilty pleasures. If I like a movie, I like it, warts and all. Sometimes I thoroughly enjoy films that no one else seems to like; I’ll go to my grave shouting the praises of Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. One of the more recent such films that entertain me is the millennial remake of 1973’s horror classic, The Wicker Man.
When The Wicker Man was released in 2006, it only made $38 million toward its $40 million budget. But it has since gained a curious infamy among viewers who gleefully share clips of star Nicolas Cage’s over-the-top performance as policeman Edward Malus. When Malus is informed by his ex-fiancée Willow that her daughter Rowan has gone missing, he launches a personal investigation at Summerisle, the island full of neo-pagans where Rowan was last seen. As he discovers that the neo-pagans who reside there are actually a matriarchal cult, things go south for poor Policeman Malus.
Screenwriter/director Neil LaBute’s bad script combined forces with the star-studded cast’s even worse acting to set ablaze an abysmal effigy of an iconic neo-pagan horror film that didn’t need a remake at all. Cage himself acknowledged that the film wasn’t a good one: "There is a mischievous mind at work on The Wicker Man, you know? You know what I mean? And I finally kind of said, 'I might have known that the movie was meant to be absurd.' But saying that now after the fact is OK, but to say it before the fact is not, because you have to let the movie have its own life.”
The Wicker Man is a bad remake of a solid film. There is no unironic reverence like the kind that audiences have for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There’s no trash-cinema appreciation of the sort that fans find in Blood Feast’s terrible dialogue and rock-bottom production value. Like Showgirls, The Wicker Man is a world apart from most celebrated trash cinema because of its studio polish and recognizable cast.
The Wicker Man is earnest to the point of absurdity, and it’s that very absurdity that makes for a fun film, whether intentional or not. By the time he makes The Wicker Man, Nic Cage is playing Nic Cage in the same way that Gary Busey or Christopher Walken inhabit their roles with their own singular, odd screen presence. But Cage’s trademark drawl and grandiose delivery cannot save Neil LaBute’s unnecessary remake, unless you embrace the absolute goofiness of it all. The same cringeworthy lines (”Breeding? Sounds like inbreeding to me”) that undermine the film’s tension make the overall experience remarkably fun when you lean into the cringe.
Since its release, at least two scenes in The Wicker Man (”Not the bees!!” and “How’d it get burned?!”) have become internet memes, a testament to their goofy mass appeal. I am a garbage human being and so I’ve put this film on in the background several times in the past few years; enough times to discover that the movie is full of meme-worthy moments. Officer Malus disproportionately throws hands at nearly every hippie woman on the island at some point or another, clocking hippies left and right. Sassy phallus-obsessed schoolgirls impede the investigation and leave Cage rocking a constant Wahlberg-ian look of exasperated confusion for the bulk of the story. But Cage doesn’t half-ass his roles- he goes full ham every time, for better or for worse. It makes every scene of his perversely gratifying, more so in a room full of people who appreciate the craft mastery that brought us cinematic gems like Stanley Goodspeed of The Rock and Castor Troy of Face/Off. His portrayal of a no-nonsense cop here cries out for campy mimicry in the periphery of every scene.
Sure, the ending is a diluted version of the good vs. evil battle that originally shocked audiences in 1973. In fact, both the biblical undercurrents and entire theme of tested faith are largely missing from the post-9/11 reboot. That resulting lack of layered tension makes the film’s attempts to take itself seriously seem like a misfire. But unintentionally goofy films like this can yield a riotous viewing experience for those who are game.
I want fans standing in line for the midnight show rocking pagan animal masks. I wish to see rowdy audiences who offer forth their open palms, gleefully (and repeatedly) screaming “How’d it get burned?” in unison with the onscreen confrontation. I want Sweded shot-for-shot recreations of the bee torture scene. I want Honeycomb Cereal thrown at the screen as Officer Malus squeals, “Killing me won’t bring back your goddamn honey!” I want people shouting “Finish her!” as Nicolas Cage inexplicably delivers a side kick to LeeLee Sobieski’s gut or punches a random pagan in the face. I want lighters in the air amid chants of “the drone must die!” at the film’s climax. To sum it up, I want MST3K-level audience participation.
It’s The Wicker Man’s only saving grace.