Generally, I try to defend Neil LaBute from charges of misogyny, using the admittedly dubious argument that he dislikes everybody irrespective of gender. And while I will continue to insist that In the Company of Men is an example of equal-opportunity misanthropy, it's pretty hard to look at the LaBute-scripted and -directed remake of The Wicker Mani and avoid the thought that he really, really hates women.

In order to understand why this is the case, it is important to consider the significant differences between this film and Robin Hardy and Anthony Schaffer's 1973 original, not because that film is better in every way (although it is) but because the changes speak to a very ugly place in LaBute's mind. In the first film, Sgt. Howie of an unidentified British police force travels to the Hebridean island of Summerisle, where he discovers a cheerful and friendly, although undefinably creepy pagan community led by Christopher Lee's Lord Summerisle. In 2006, Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) of the California Highway Patrol travels to the Puget Sound island of Summersisle, home of a vicious and nasty and untrusting and brazenly creepy pagan community led by Ellen Burstyn's Sister Summersisle.

The key difference between 1973 and now is this: not only is the pagan community led by a woman, but every significant pagan is a woman, and the men are not allowed to speak - indeed, we are led to believe that their tongues are cut out in childhood. By shifting the story from a community of nice men and women in a non-gendered nature cult to a community of horrible women worshiping a punishing Goddess, LaBute makes the argument in big, bold letters: letting women run things is a terrible idea.

As unpleasant as the misogyny is, it would be possible to set it to the side if there were a solid film underlying it. But there most certainly is not: The Wicker Man is a terrible film relative to the first, and a terrible film on its own terms. For one, it tells a nonsensical story - true, the original was hardly a model of rationality, but the remake is much worse off for trying to explain some of the stranger gaps in the plot. The great unanswered question of the 1973 film is how Sgt. Howie in particular ended up on Summerisle. The remake answers that question in the clumsiest imaginable way - by making the story more rational, it becomes infinitely less plausible. And the new film's opening scene, in which Malus has a life-altering experience watching a woman and her daughter die in a car explosion, does not connect to the greater plot in any sane way, and becomes a more gaping hole than anything in the original.

After this event seems to bring him some amount of attention, he receives a letter from his long-lost ex-fiancée, asking him to come to Summersisle to find their her missing daughter (trust me, the film does about that good a job hiding that "spoiler"). Upon arriving, Edward meets many unfriendly people and receives worse-than-useless hints from his ex, Willow (Kate Beahan, who is saddled with some of the most undeliverable lines in recent cinematic memory), and eventually ends up in the honeycomb-themed home of Sister Summersisle (Burstyn), who tells him a story that proves many things, primarily that LaBute doesn't understand how Celtic neo-paganism denotes different things in northern Scotland compared to Washington state, and the Essential Britishness of the original film is underlined more than I could hope to demonstrate.

This film has an Idiot Plot: the whole thing comes crashing down if Edward Malus has even half a brain. The original deals with this by leaving the mystery of what happened to the girl murky until Howie had been absorbed by curiosity. Here it's obvious within moments what's gone on, and only Edward's residual affection for Willow keeps him on the case. Which leaves us with an endless series of variations on the scene: Edward asks Controlling Female for help. She tells him to suck pig guts. Pointless red herrings are tossed around, such as the island's high percentage of twins and a whole bee subplot whose symbolism is totally lost on me.

Meanwhile, LaBute and cinematographer Paul Sarossy drape everything in murky blacks and stark contrast, because LaBute has decided that this is to be a horror film, never mind that the only horrifying part of the original is the last five minutes. Unfortunately, the director has always evidenced a better control over actors than over imagery, and so all that murk quickly becomes airless and repetitive rather than foreboding. And this tension - is it scary, or isn't it? - leaves the actors without a clue how to play anything, especially Ellen Burstyn, whose performance veers from sickly grandma sweet to hell-spawned demon in the space of a single line. Cage is characteristically leaden, and it kind of works, because nobody with a personality would put up with this plot for more than ten minutes.

And so we lumber to the end, which has the guts to be the same bleak event as the first film, but here it is totally unearned: first, because we have no sense of how the religion works here; then, because the theme of Christianity versus paganism, the central point of the original, has been totally eliminated; and lastly because (and I'm kind of spoiling both films, so if you haven't seen the original - and you must - skip ahead) it's infinitely less creepy when angry women scream "burn the drone" than when all the happy pagans sing "Sumer is icumen in." Then follows a coda that does nothing and goes nowhere.

It's kind of amazing: it's too close to the original to avoid comparing the two, and yet nearly everything that fails here does so because it veers too far away. I'm not sure what to blame most: the aimless direction, the clattering dialogue, the endless misogynist raving, but it all comes down to one thing: Neil LaBute is a very bad man.