hollywood hues
Ever, ever eerie
An excellent thriller, The Wicker Man is wrapped in a mystery. It is in the best tradition of that 1960s classic The Innocents.

Ellen Burstyn as the matriarch in The Wicker Man
Ellen Burstyn as the matriarch in The Wicker Man

Nicholas Cage may have begun his career as a charming lover of Cher in Moonstruck but since then he hasnít been as successful. That celestial affair with Meg Ryan was too weepy and the one in Captain Correlliís Mandolin was as mushy and prolonged. In The Wicker Man he tries to rekindle love with an ex-flame and this takes him to Summersile, a quaint rustic isle dominated by women in a secret society where anything is possible.

As Edward Malus, Cage is a motorbike cop who feels responsible for the deaths of two people (mother and daughter) trapped in a burning car hit by a runaway truck on the California highway. The incident haunts him and he has to pop pills to put it behind him. In this "amnesiac" state he receives a letter from a former girl friend Willow (Kate Beham) asking him to look for her missing daughter Rowan.

But nothing is what it seems to be in that desolate isle. Ellen Burstyn enters halfway through the film as Sister Summersile. "We love our men but are not subservient to them," she says and that is an understatement. "The Mother Goddess rules this isle and I am her earthly representative," she goes on. Thereís also Sister Honey (Leelee Sobreski) and Sister Rose (Molly Parker) and a whole lot of other women, ranging from the beautiful and angelic to the plain and aged.

Nature is in its pristine beauty and bee keeping is one of their pastimes. The bees expectedly add to the horror and Malusí path is fraught with danger at every turn. In between he hallucinates and this heightens the suspense and horror. It is a remake of the 1973 (early days of womenlib) film and has an excellent screenplay by director Neil LaBute, not surprisingly because it is based on a play by Anthony Shaeffer, who also wrote that classic Sleuth with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine in it.

Shades of The Crucible which also dealt with the occult, The Wicker Man is wrapped in a mystery and with Kate Beham as enigmatic as ever, it is a virtual journey into ever land. Anything is possible. Paul Saroskyís camerawork is caressing and the isle offers enough scope. The little girls in the school have weird teachers and are learning about phallic symbols. Mumís the word when Malus probes Rowanís whereabouts.

LaBute does an excellent job, moving on a number of fronts, and events build up to a chilling climax. The final twist is as dramatic as ever. May be credibility suffers a wee bit, but thatís understandable in the light of the denouement.

All in all, an excellent thriller in the best tradition of that 1960s classic The Innocents. Itís ever, ever eerie. Donít miss it. ó E.E.M