While the audience understands what's going on, the main character doesn't.
By ROGER MOORE
"The Wicker Man" is, like this year's other big horror remake, "The Omen," a reminder of that pre-"Halloween" era when horror movies were about something, and not just exercises in pure, motiveless evil. It's a horror movie couched in anti-communalism, anti-paganism and anti-feminism, a comic nightmare of a world gone horribly wrong.
So it was a perfectly clever idea, the hiring of the cinema's leading misogynist, Neil LaBute, to remake the 1973 film about a mysterious island where all the women are strong, the men silent and subservient, and the children, just a tad creepy.
It doesn't quite work out, because LaBute ("In the Company of Men") or his studio lost its nerve and couldn't decide whether to make the film ironic, horrific or just a goof. Horror movies are often laugh-out-loud funny. But not the supposedly high-minded ones.
Nicolas Cage stars as a California motorcycle cop named Ed, a well-intentioned man haunted by memories of mother and daughter car-crash victims he could not save. Medicated and morose, he receives a letter, from out of the blue, begging for help with a missing child. The letter's from a former love, an ex-fianc & eacute;e (Kate Beahan of "Flightplan"). She's on an island. The people there won't tell her what happened to her child.
So intrepid Ed, pistol and badge in hand, finds his way to remote Summer's Isle, starts asking questions, and finds himself mixed up in a mystery he can't begin to fathom.
That's a pity, because we fathom away, and pretty much from the get-go.
It's a matriarchal society, and the women are aloof, irritable and downright hostile. They don't back down under Ed's threats of police action or violence. They tell him pieces of their history, their pagan traditions, and then abruptly stop, as if that's just enough of the tale to keep him off the scent or lure him into a trap.
"It's just our way," they say.
The men, laboring away in this Luddites-with-electricity world, keep their thoughts to themselves. Ed, strangely, doesn't pick up on this.
The absurdly obvious direction the story is going in is somewhat mollified by Cage's semi-deranged performance. LaBute does his best to undermine Ed's mental state. But his best isn't good enough. The movie needs to be grayer in its motivations, in our sense of Ed's fragile state of mind and grayer in color.