It’s difficult to approach Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man with an entirely neutral eye. If you can overlook the infamy its universal panning on release brought it, the decision to remake such a cult classic inevitably leads the audience to watch it with a view to spotting references to the original.
In some ways, this fatally undermines the project and LaBute himself seems unsure of whether he wanted to make a slightly slicker carbon copy of the original or instead adopt its themes for his own ends. As such, watching it has all of the discomfort of driving a constantly stalling car. The scenes that are lifted directly from the original are perfectly competent, and in these Nicholas Cage is able to exhibit at least some of his ability.
It is when LaBute tries to branch off into his own plot that the film hits a brick wall. The relocated Summerisle has none of the beguiling menace of the original, and the newly minted feminist themes are handled so clumsily that they become a distraction to be resented. This is at its most jarring in the person of Sister Summerisle, whose character possesses none of Christopher Lee’s chillingly refined charisma. Cage is instantly thrown against a sneering and hostile populace, whose undisguised glee at the fate that awaits him saps what little suspense remains. The only highlights then come in the form of the unrestrained punches he dishes out to the sisters. They are, alas, all too few.