Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Film Review: The Wicker Man - 2009

Probably--nah, definitely--the best film from this series of reviews...


This month's movie is the 1973 classic The Wicker Man, starring the late Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, and Ingrid Pitt.

Before we start, I feel the need to preface my remarks with a warning that I'm not going to get too deep into the plot--unlike a lot of the other films I've reviewed for the Final Girl Film Club, this one's a genuine classic, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should.

I will reveal some things about it, but I'm going to try and be as vague as possible. But, WARNING: if you don't want the ending ruined for you, don't read too much further.

The opens with this weirdly unsettling card:
sg
The film opens in a very mellow fashion, with shots of a plane heading towards Summerisle. Inside we see its piloted by a police officer, played by the late Edward Woodward:
sg
Woodward's character, named Sgt. Howie, has arrived to investigate a case involving a missing little girl. He is met by some seemingly harmless islanders, who all claim they've never seen the little girl in question.

From this early moment, something feels amiss. It may be just a group of older guys, but there's something about the way they stand so close to one another, and seem so disinterested in the missing girl, that immediately tells you they're not telling Sgt. Howie everything they know.

Howie later checks into an inn, run by another islander and his comely daughter, played by Britt Ekland. Here, too, something's amiss: the locals get together to drink and sing, but there's something about the forced gaiety that's unsettling. Even more weird is a fairly raunchy song they sing about an Innkeeper's Daughter, directed right at Ekland, who laughs and plays along.

Sgt. Howie finds all this odd and even a little disgusting, a feeling he's going to experience a lot on this island. Later, he wanders outside and sees this:
sg
...in a field outside, several couples are copulating, seemingly indifferent to a police officer wandering by. Next door to this, he sees a naked girl wrapped around a tombstone. What the hell is going on here?

What's really unsettling with this scene is how the movie just passes right by it...no one mentions it, and you start to wonder, what did I just see?

Sgt. Howie goes to sleep, and next door he is tempted by the Innkeeper's Daughter, who sings a song, naked:
sg
The next day Sgt. Howie meets Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), who gleefully admits to the naked prayer circles and other assorted weirdness. He even full out states that the citizens of Summerisle aren't Christian, and believe in a sort of hodge-podge of Paganism, Wicca, and other nature-related religions.

He cheerfully disregards Howie's Lord and Savior, and Howie is horrified.
sg
As if all this wasn't weird enough, the townsfolk don't seem particularly scared of Sgt. Howie's threats to continue the investigation, leave the island to get more reinforcements, etc. They all just sort of smile and agree, and Sgt. Howie is left to storm out.

They start messing with his head, like leaving this nifty item next to his bed:
sg
...later, Sgt. Howie tries to hop back in his plane to get more police, but someone has fiddled with its engine and it can't take off.

Finally, he goes undercover as part of the harvest ceremony, which Lord Summerisle promises will produce a bountiful food crop next season...if the proper sacrifice is made.

Sgt. Howie, convinced that the missing girl is the sacrifice, tries to stop it, only to learn that the young girl is fine and in no harm. Rather, its he who was the sacrifice all along!

I found this scene especially chilling, because, for a few moments, the stiff and brave Sgt. Howie starts to cry out in utter terror:
sg
I can't think of too many examples in movies where the hero is allowed, even for a moment, to become a weak, almost-blubbering mess...you know, like most of us would be if we learned we were the victim of a giant, island-wide plot to use me as a human sacrifice.

Its here we get to see, finally, who or what The Wicker Man is:
sg
Sgt. Howie is thrown inside the Wicker Man, and burned to death, as he prays to his Lord. And that's the end of the movie!

I had heard so many good things about this movie before I saw it, so I expected it to be pretty damn good.

And it was, except not in the way I expected. The film is less in-your-face than I thought, and its sheer mundanity in certain scenes really throws you off the trail, leaving you wondering just what the hell is going on here?


And the ending is a kicker. Part of me now wants to see the remake, just to see how badly they screwed it up--there's
no way a major movie studio let Nicolas Cage die the way Edward Woodward does here.


3 comments:

Craig Michael Patrick said...

Haven't seen this one, Rob. Curious if the ominous tone you indicated at the outset of the film is based solely around audible queues. Generally, that's how contemporary film indicates emotional responses from audiences.

Makes me yearn for more storytelling in the vein of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - not a note of music to be found.

ecatto said...

How can you go wrong with Britt Ekland?

Butch said...

Wicker Man is one of those films best enjoyed by picking it up at the video store, Netflix, Redbox, where ever. I honestly think the worst thing that could happen to WM is for it to become a some what legendary cult classic, but that's exactly what happened. Sir Christopher Lee's best performance, IMO and, at the time, a genuinely different ending.

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