The Wicker Man (PG-13 for disturbing images) isn't actually a movie, it only looks like one. But, there's hope when you've got a great filmmaker like Neil LaBute, writer and director of good films like In the Company of Men (1997) and The Shape of Things (2003).
We start with cop Edward Malus (Nicholas Cage), who fails to rescue a little girl from a burning car. He takes a leave of absence and soon receives a letter from his ex-fiancée, Willow Woodward (Kate Beahan), who needs his help to find her kidnapped daughter. Malus goes on a quest to isolated Summersisle to help find the girl, and that's when plot and character take a vacation of their own.
The residents of this island colony are a little Amish and a little hippie-in drab clothes while making their organic honey-but they sound wooden and affected, like college actors at a Plymouth Colony exhibit. That should be enough to scare off Malus, not to mention the fact that they carry around burlap sacks that look suspiciously full of bloody and not-quite-dead people.
As he investigates the disappearance of what turns out to be his daughter (surprise!), things just get weirder. At Summersisle, women rule the hive and men are mute and passive. There's potential here for a LaBute-esque metaphor, something about the absurd conclusion of feminism and goddess worship. But the metaphor never flowers.
Eventually, Malus figures out that this neo-pagan community is really into harvest festivals and child sacrifice. And (surprise again!) his missing daughter is next on the altar.
The story raises good questions: What's happening here, what do all these attempted metaphors mean, what drives Malus in his hunt for truth, and what will he learn about himself? But we get no answers. We never hear more about the disappearing girl in the burning car. We never see inside the bloody burlap sack. We never even get to know our hero.
So The Wicker Man only looks like a movie. The plot, the characters, the metaphors-these things are only shadows of the real things. Ultimately, the movie is a scarecrow, a stick figure, a straw man. Just like the title says.