Neil LaBute's films have received stark reviews and sparked some interesting debates in the past. He has been called a misogynist and an auteur at the same time. The original British film The Wicker Man, of which this week's film of the same name is a remake, is considered a classic by many horror fans, and was called Britain's finest film in a recent poll.
Despite all this information, I watched this film entirely without any prejudice, as I have never seen a LaBute film, or the original film. This made sure I was not getting into the feminist debates or the comparisons with the original, which is a shame, really. Because in that case, at least I would have something to do.
Yes, Nicolas Cage's latest release this year is a boring, half-hearted attempt that makes you look for things to do to while away the time as you wait for it to reach its climax. LaBute has tried to infuse this film with some slick moments and some slow, lingering shots in order to give a creepy feel. But with the lack of sharp dialog, and the fact that the pace of the film keeps things disinteresting, the overall effect is that of a very silly film. The movie is however far from being just silly. It is plain weird.
The weird bits don't come from the plot - it's a pretty standard one for a creepy film. Cage plays a traumatized cop Edward Malus. He is eaten up from inside thinking about an accident that he could not prevent, resulting in a mother and daughter's demise. He is continuously on mind-numbing drugs, and does nothing but watch/listen to self-help stuff all day.
One day, a letter from an estranged fiancée, Willow (Kate Beahan), arrives, imploring him to help find her daughter in a remote island called Summersisle, where she currently is. In his vulnerable state, he packs his bags and his guns, and rushes to save the little girl.
The island is inhabited by women mostly, and they are all part of a community that raises bees by day and has their own pagan rituals by night. The few men present have had their tongues removed. The women are all addressed to as "sister," and they are suspicious of the new cop in town. Ultimately Malus discovers a more sinister plot behind his coming to the island than just the kidnapping.
See? Pretty serviceable as plots go for creepy horror films. But in his execution, LaBute has managed to infuse absolutely no action, except Cage being bitten by bees an almost-drowning, as most of the thrills are in dream sequences that Cage has. LaBute's decision to completely keep Cage's dreams as the place where things happen, but have no meaning, and keep the island as the place where things don't happen, is part of what makes this a weird film.
The saving grace of the movie is the acting ensemble he has employed. Cage can play a man on the edge in his sleep by now, and this time it actually looks like he is. Other than him, Ellen Burstyn as the Sister No. 1 of the island is excellent as a menacing and vicious leader. She manages to keep Cage in restraint, and eats up every scene she gets. Molly Parker and Francis Conroy as sisters in the society also shine in their roles.
This is a very visual film, and Paul Sarossy's beautiful widescreen cinematography brings the island alive in a way that complements the day/night cycle of the plot. The production values are top-notch, and the background score is truly eerie. In fact the only reason no one will fall asleep this film is the haunting background score.
The writing of the film is a weak point - LaBute is the culprit once again. The dialogs are strange, and seem out of place. Cage gets to mouth some of the most unintentionally funny lines, and do some of the most ridiculous things in order to try and scare you. While all the film manages to do is to make you wish you can see the climax and go home. Oh, and the whole film is constructed as a metaphor of bee colony structures resembling human culture. Please don't think too hard on those points or you will be offended.
The film keeps getting weirder and weirder with the bee metaphors and the nonsensical situations. By the time it shows you Cage in a bear suit with Burstyn chanting or something wearing warpaint, you realize this is one bizarre film you walked into. If you can't guess the end, which is a little unlikely, but possible, you will be presented with a shocking revelation, which may help you salvage something from this film - but remember, even that is plain weird.