Secrets of the Beehive

The Wicker Man. Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, and Kate
Beahan star in a film written by Neil LaBute, based on the original
screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, and directed by LaBute.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

photo_01_hires.jpgAdmirers of
playwright-turned-film-director Neil LaBute may wonder what he was
doing taking on what might appear to be a standard-fare
horror/suspense number. At times, the film seems strangely labored
and lame, like the work of a director out of his element. In these
fallow moments, the viewer wonders, “Is the director sleeping or
slumming on the job?” Alas, The Wicker Man is more than it appears,
and the narrative twists, accelerated in a deliciously dizzying
finale, rewarding the patient viewer.

Moreover, there are dramatic elements in this material, an
adaptation of a 1973 British horror flick, which suggest classic
traits from LaBute’s own material (In the Company of Men, Your
Friends & Neighbors, Nurse Betty). Included on the emotional
menu are wildly ulterior motives, cruel intentions, and whiplash
surprises.

In some ways, the story is reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s
The Village, involving isolationist social groups who create a
parallel universe for themselves outside the realm of the age of
McDonald’s and the Internet. In this case, the milieu is a severely
matriarchal micro-society on an island off Puget Sound known as
Summersisle. On this island, girls rule, to a frightening
degree.

Minimalist acting school specialist Nicolas Cage, who still
talks without moving his lips much, takes on yet another haunted
cop/emergency worker role, in the shadow of World Trade Center and
Bringing Out the Dead. Contacted by ex-fiancée Willow (Kate Beahan,
perfect as a doe-eyed zombie) about her missing daughter, Cage is
sucked into the island’s scenically beautiful yet potentially
lethal netherworld. There, he encounters a world run by women and
happily out-of-sync with modernity. The cool queen bee in
charge — as bee culture plays a key role here — is Sister
Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn, the most awesome acting talent on the
gig, who glows eerily onscreen).

Less interesting as a horror genre exercise than as a slow-burn
creep-out, The Wicker Man sneaks up on the viewer willing to go the
distance, in a trip also nicely lined by Angelo Badalamenti’s
mock-stately musical score.

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