Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
In 1973’s The Wicker Man, the black-magic women may flit around glaringly naked, but in the 2006 version, they’re Kool Aid–drinkin’ evil. And the ladies partial to long hair and prairie dresses get punched. And kicked. And shoved aside. Any surprise that Neil LaBute did the redo? The writer-director, also responsible for venom-filled films such as In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things, should get ready for cries of misogyny here, too. Though in this case, the bitches done deserve it. LaBute removes a bit of sense in updating writer Anthony Shaffer’s bizarre, campy original, which involved a pagan community and a devoutly Christian cop who visits to look for a missing girl. Now the forces aren’t naturalists versus puritans, but gals versus the guys: After witnessing a fiery car accident in which the occupants, including a bratty little girl, disappear, now-traumatized police officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) gets a letter from his ex, Willow (Kate Beahan), asking for his help in recovering her vanished daughter. Sedatives in hand, he travels to Willow’s hometown of Summersisle, an olde-tyme private island reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s titular village. Ed discovers that the residents, led by Sister Summersisle (a glowing Ellen Burstyn), don’t care so much for strangers, as each of them coolly denies knowing the girl and dismisses him. He also soon realizes that they’re all chicks, with a few mute men around to change light bulbs and such. Like its predecessor, The Wicker Man isn’t so much a horror film as a skin-crawling mystery. LaBute does toss in a few minor jolts and freakish images—a couple of old, blind, talking-in-unison twins will stay in your head longer than the rest of the movie will—but he mostly focuses on Ed’s increasing insanity as the natives infuriatingly deny him information or outright lie to him. Cage, who prepared for the role by darkening his hair, earns mostly legitimate laughs as his character wigs out at the visions that haunt him, responds to the residents with sarcasm, and then turns entertainingly badass as they continue to question his authority: “You have my permission to stay out of the fucking way!” he tells a woman as he searches her home. Besides Burstyn, the rest of the cast isn’t very good, and though LaBute trimmed some old cheese, he unfortunately replaced it with fresh stuff—and it doesn’t include nude dancing nymphs.—Tricia Olszewski