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The Wicker Man review

It was always destined to burn in hell. Ominous portents of doom surrounded this remake of Britain’s pagan masterpiece right from the start. Neil LaBute – best-known for chamber-piece relationship dramas like In The Company of Men – looked an unlikely writer/director. The 1973 original’s X certificate (slapped on it for its brooding, reap-what-you-sow nihilism) was downgraded to a mallrat-friendly 12A (The Wicker Man and the words “contains moderate horror” a contradiction in terms). Then there was Cage playing a deeply religious, 40-year-old virgin copper. Nic without nookie? Pull the other one, it’s got a Morris bell on the end of it.

LaBute obviously couldn’t buy his leading man as a virgin bible- basher either. His top-to-bottom rewrite turns Cage into a Godless copper lured on to the island by ex-fiancée Willow (Beahan, collagen- lipped but no Britt Ekland), who claims he’s the father of her missing child. Gone is the original’s austere meditation on pagan faith and Christian sacrifice. Instead LaBute exorcises his personal demons, turning Summersisle into a bizarre matriarchal community where men are simpering mutes and the women are mead-quaffing, bee- keeping harpies led by Lady Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn in Braveheart face paint). It’s as if the master of misogyny watched the original, saw Christopher Lee in a kilt and got a little confused.

Even taken on its own terms this remake fails. LaBute is better at the horror of relationships than taut terror, barely managing to spark up a single scare. He quickly loses control of Cage, who descends into wild-eyed, wild-haired mania. Unintentional hilarity suggests the writer/director has an untapped talent for comedy: dream- within-a-dream shocks and Cage punching plump old matriarchs producing guffaws not gasps. The ending is inevitable but – with an atheist copper robbed of any chance of martyrdom in the hotseat – it’s unlikely to light anyone’s fire. Like the movie, he simply goes up in smoke.

This daft remake retains a car-crash curiosity, but it's a serious disappointment from LaBute. Fans of the original should bring their own matches.

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