‘‘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.
Nicolas Cage stars as a California motorcycle cop named Ed, a well-intentioned man haunted by memories of mother and daughter carcrash victims he could not save. He receives a letter begging for help with a missing child. The letter’s from a former love. She’s on an island. The people there won’t tell her what happened to her child.
So intrepid Ed 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.
The women don’t back down under Ed’s threats. They tell him pieces of their history, their pagan traditions, and then abruptly stop.
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 (is he hallucinating this?), and grayer in color.
’The Wicker Man’
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski
Rating: PG-13 (disturbing images and violence, profanity and thematic issues) Running time: 97 minutes
Playing: In theaters Valleywide