A well-dressed but ultimately hollow remake of a terminally original cult classic, Neil LaBute's The Wicker Man dutifully maintains the majority of the original 1973 film's mystery while sadly jettisoning the religious undertones and eerie quirkiness that earned that film a devoted following. While a cursory glance reveals a remake that does at times bear striking surface resemblance to the source material, closer inspection ultimately reveals a generic thriller sunken by the director's misguided attempt to inject his own questionable agenda into the proceedings. By transforming the island of phallus-worshipping pagans of the original into a community of female-dominated Wiccans who seemingly keep their milquetoast male population well in check when it comes to anything but breeding, LaBute seems to be doing little more than confirming the accusations of misogyny that were previously leveled at him in the wake of such efforts as In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things. While even that could have worked had it been established that the beliefs of the buttoned-down protagonist compelled him to look down his nose at the bee-keeping Wiccans who populate the idyllic island (perhaps he was a hard-line sexist?), in a similar manner as his staunchly Christian predecessor had to the godless dirt-worshipers in the original, the fact that the personality of the pill-popping protagonist is defined by little more than an EpiPen and the occasional recurring nightmare offers little chance for viewers to relate to the character on anything except the most superficial of levels. In jettisoning the contrast that essentially served as the heart of the original film, LaBute completely misses the point, choosing instead to rattle the viewer through cheap dream sequences and frustration-induced tension rather than peeling back the layers of tradition and society to truly make a lasting impact. Likewise, LaBute's blundering attempt to define the quest of his weary protagonist with a cheap plot twist revealed at the halfway mark does little more than test the patience of the viewer by passing off a painfully predictable plot twist as a moment of key revelation.
Though the cinematography effectively captures the menacing beauty of the idyllic landscape and the commendable female cast may lead the casual viewer to suspect that this isn't your typical genre film, a fairly unmemorable score by Angelo Badalamenti and a laughably unhinged performance by Nicolas Cage (who actually channels the stiff smugness of original Wicker Man star Edward Woodward fairly effectively early on) steadily sink the entire affair as the pieces gradually fall into place. Though less-forgiving critics of the original have frequently derided the instantly dated folk songs scattered throughout the soundtrack of that film, their notable absence in the remake may provide a symptomatic summary of why LaBute's remake is bound for the bargain bins while Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer's film will be fondly remembered for years to come. Simply put, it's better to have a flawed classic that strives for excellence than an unimaginative remake that sacrifices originality for box-office profits and mainstream acceptance.