Hi, and welcome to the 100th remake of The Wicker Man.
In this version from 2006, our victim is played by Jeremy Sisto. He’s a good actor but he’s no Nicolas Cage. He played Steve Kady, who works for the U.S. Census Bureau so let’s all take a moment to boo the federal government. Booooo! Steve has been sent to the small town of Rockwell Falls, North Dakota so that he can count the citizenry and I guess help to determine whether North Dakota should get a second congressional district.
Anyway, Steve arrives in town and he quickly meets Deputy Bobby Caine, who is played by Fred Durst. A town where Fred Durst is responsible for maintaining law and order? It’s a madhouse! Actually, it’s a bit of a exaggeration to call the town a madhouse but there’s definitely something a little bit off about it. The people seem to be old-fashioned and very religious. Could it be that they’re Mennonites? If so, Steve’s gotten lucky because we’ve got a lot of Mennonites in Texas and, for the most part, they’re the nicest people you could hope to meet.
Anyway, Steve does some research and he discovers that the town has a long history of losing people to a mysterious fever and that somehow the town has never had more nor less than 436 citizens. It’s almost as if something’s being done to specifically make sure that the town’s population always remains at 436. The people who live there can’t leave without falling victim to any number of mysterious accidents. The people who show up — like folks from the Census Bureau, for instance — are expected to stay. Is it a supernatural thing or is it just an amazing religious-based coincidence?
Steve is going to have to figure it out because he’s falling in love with Courtney Lovett (Charlotte Sullivan) and she apparently doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life in a small town in North Dakota. Also, it turns out that Bobby Caine is also in love with Courtney and he’s not happy about losing her to someone who works for the Census Bureau. I don’t blame him. I guess this where I would insert a joke about some song written by Limp Bizkit but, to be honest, I haven’t thought about Limp Bizkit in nearly twenty years and I’m not going to start now.
Anyway, this is kind of a padded review because there’s really not a lot to say about Population 436. It’s an okay horror movie but it’s not a particularly interesting one. By this point, we’ve seen so many messed up little towns and so many weirdly old-fashioned people with strange religious beliefs that it’s hard to be shocked by any of it anymore. Even the movie’s “shock” ending feels predictable. On the plus side, the film does make good use of the inherent creepiness of living in a state that’s defined by wide open spaces. The town of Rockwell Falls does look convincingly creepy. On the negative side, the film is a bit superficial and never bothers to really explore any of the issues that it raises. It’s content to just say, “Religious people are crazy,” and while many will agree with that sentiment, it’s hardly as subversive a statement as Population 436 seems to think that it is.
Of course, if Population 436 encourages just one viewer to be paranoid about census takers and government bureaucracy, it will have all been worth it.