Wicker Man (2006)
I consider this film horror-suspense, because it is neither one nor the other. The film exists at the intersection of horror and suspense, in my opinion. The only “horror,” strictly speaking, concerns “the evil men do,” as it were.
This is a suspense film, as I would have it, because we are at least led to believe (as is the protagonist) that Nicholas Cage, the central character, has to do something within a general time-window in order to avert disaster.
When the “moment of truth” arrives, we will see that the would-be hero’s efforts are for naught, that is to say, irrelevant. In the place of resolution, there is the horror I referred to.
Let’s slow down and back up a little.
Let me start by saying that I shall have to break one of my rules, and discuss the end of this movie. I give fair warning to all of you squeamish about “spoilers,” and all that.
My first reaction, upon seeing the film, was to be angry with it, as I was (and still am) with M. Night Shaymalan’s The Village. Like “The Village,” I believed Wicker Man to have been a film that was not honest with itself, let’s say.
My rage against The Village, has to do with my belief that the story was based upon a fragile, unsupportable premise. My first reaction upon seeing Wicker Man, was to feel that initial pang.
Nicholas Cage plays a police officer, who finds himself investigating the disappearance of some ten-eleven-twelve-year-old girl, on an island village community. I might mention here that this film is a remake of the 1973 original.
Here’s how everything unfolds…
It turns out that the girl in question, is his daughter, from a relationship he had had with a young woman from that village community, years ago, obviously. But Cage had not known that he was a father.
Okay, moving along…
It turns out that the girl is not really missing, or in danger of any kind.
Then it turns out that the young woman, who is the daughter of the village high priestess, and the little girl herself, astonishingly, were in on a plot to lure Cage to the village, so that he may be killed, sacrificed to the “Wicker Man,” by fire.
It turns out that literally the entire—and I mean the entire—village was in on the plot to lure Cage to his death; each played a specific role.
You see, Cage was deliberately misled to believe that a young girl, his daughter, was in danger of being killed, for some reason.
I just want to emphasize that every single member of the village community was in on this plot.
The reason the village did all of this was to appease their pagan fertility gods. They had been having a tough time with their honey production; and jump starting it, apparently requires human sacrifice. However, not just any human sacrifice will do.
The offering must be both a stranger and yet connected to them, as in, say, a father of a child with one of the village women, according to “prophecy.”
Anyway, the film ends with Nicholas Cage being burned to death in the giant, wicker, vaguely man-shaped statue. After that, there is a scene in which a couple of good looking young women go into the big city, on a deadly double date; because the object is to ensnare another victim for the Wicker Man.
The reason my first reaction to this film was a pang of anger, was, ultimately, the reason this film is so chilling and disturbing and good. You see, I found myself feeling a feeling of contemptuous dismissal of the “religion” of the villagers. I found myself thinking that the villagers were nothing but serial killers, operating on the justification of a pagan fertility cult.
You see, at first I found this to be a reason to think the film wasn’t being honest with itself. But then, thinking about it some more, I decided that that was precisely what made the film so brilliant! We were given a look at a new kind of serial killer.
This is not one, or two, or three, or even a group of psychopathic killers. No, it was an entire village community, linking up like the Voltron Lions, or something, to create one, gigantic, amalgamated killer. It was literally everybody in that community, coming together to kill.
Yes, the fertility gods say it is absolutely necessary; but if you watch the film’s ending, the “big reveal,” as it were, you understand quite clearly, that this community, this amalgam “Voltron” serial killer(s) really, really, really enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Each person who spoke, talking about how they had trapped Cage, could not keep a certain glee out of their voices.
Here’s what I’m saying…
Instead of a film that is not, as I previously put it, “not honest with itself,” Wicker Man with Nicholas Cage (2006), is a chilling, disturbing, and quite excellent “horror-suspense” film. The film is a remake of the 1973 original, which, I understand, the Nicholas Cage version is often unfavorably compared to by professional critics.
Obviously, I do not agree. In fact, I believe that the Cage version has a shot at becoming a classic in its own right.
Let me wrap this up by pointing out two things, that I see as making Wicker Man (2006) a powerful, chilling, disturbing, and quite excellent horror-suspense film.
1. This film offers us something relatively new, though it was first introduced in the 1973 original version, as far as I can tell. I am speaking of a new kind of serial killer. Its not one individual; its not two individuals working together; its not three or more people working in concert.
It is an entire village, including the children, who, collectively, make up the serial killer. On their own, as individuals, these people would not, perhaps, be killers. But together, under the justification of their pagan religious beliefs, something happens to them.
What about religion?
Well, what about it? As far as we know (from the movies, anyway), all serial killers operate out of some kind of underwriting psychological or supernatural justification. Its rarely claimed that the kill simply because they enjoy killing, though they clearly do.
The village community on the island do not claim to embark upon homicide lightly. They do so, they say, on behalf of their pagan fertility rites. That may be true, but they really enjoy the thrill of the hunt, for victims to feed to the “Wicker Man.”
2. This film turns the “country bumpkin”- “city slicker” axis on its head. Let’s call the villagers the ostensible “country bumpkins,” if you will.
You know, the fictional private ‘consulting detective,’ Sherlock Holmes, frequently said that the greatest horrors were likely to happen, not in the crowded city, but out in the country, the isolated country, where there are not so many people around to hear your screams…
What is so chilling and dread-full about Wicker Man, is that the “country bumpkin” villagers actually use the “city slickers'” own sense of superiority (of sophistication) against them! The end of the film, as I said, features a scene in which two good looking young girls from the village go into the big city, on the prowl for another victim.
We see that yet another police officer (newly minted police officer) is selected. One gets the impression that the villagers’ preferred victims are police officers from the “big city.” By the way, recall how we are told (in the movies and television dramas) that serial killers all have a profile of their preferred victims.
And, it makes sense that the villagers’ preferred victims be police officers, if you think about it. What they need are victims with the courage and investigative curiosity to follow the breadcrumbs of the false trail into their trap.
Okay, that’ll do it.