Year Released: 2011
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 108 minutes
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This review was originally published on January 30, 2011
Hyperbole aside, I would venture to say that “The Woman,” written and directed by Lucky McKee and based on a book by horror author Jack Ketchum, is a damn near perfect horror film. Violent, smart, bloody, allegorical and just plain fucked-up, “The Woman” won’t disappoint horror fans and might even chase away a few with weak stomachs. That being said if you don’t like intense horror, domestic violence or consider any sort of onscreen violence where one person is being dominated to be “torture porn,” stay away. It’s that simple. “The Woman” is a rough and brutal film but one that will make you think.
As the film opens we see a beastly looking cavewoman type (McIntosh) literally thrown in our face. This is the films titular character and she’s a filthy, savage animal and McKee’s use of close-ups creates an unnerving tension right out of the gate. A seething growl and one last lunge at the camera and we’re whisked away to a suburban pool party where we meet quiet and somehow creepy Chris Cleek (Bridgers) as he watches kids playing. McKee lets his camera flow over the rest of the family which includes shy and withdrawn daughter Peggy (Carter), detached yet angry seeming Brian (Rand) and sweet and innocent Darlin (Molhusen). Soon Chris is joined and catered to by frightened looking wife Belle (Bettis) and while it’s totally unclear what is bubbling beneath the surface of this family, it’s still palpable. Chris may keep up outward appearances but judging by his screwed up seeming kids and freaked out wife, not everything is as it seems.
The next day Chris is hunting when he comes across the savage woman bathing nude in a creek. Loud, pounding music with major sexual innuendo begins thumping and we immediately know what Chris’ intentions towards the woman are. And let’s be honest; scrape off the filth and clean this woman up and she’s smoking, smoking hot. Soon Chris captures the woman and chains her up in his cellar where he enlists the help of his family to “domesticate” her.
Charges of the film being “torture porn” or “anti-feminist” are sure to be bandied about but that’s just gut level reacting or lazy finger pointing. As with his films “May” and “The Woods” (sort-of on the latter anyway) director Lucky McKee is extremely pro-woman. Yes, his female characters often end up being hurt or degraded by men, but McKee works in the area of power struggles and madness. He may take the long way around or get there in a weird way, but McKee’s women are the ones who hold the keys to the cinematic power struggle. But look at the symbolism McKee uses; The woman is chained Christ-like in his cellar and in one of the toughest scenes to watch, is later roughly hosed down. At one point a character is dragged around by her hair as if she were a cavewoman. The male dominance in this film is treated as brash and cruel and it’s clear that there’s a cycle of violence started by the elder Cleek and it’s seeping into the younger.
Am I implying that a movie about a wild cavewoman chained in a basement is intelligent as well as challenging? You bet I am. And I’m not playing it up either. “The Woman” is a tough film to watch and if you’re a fan of Jack Ketchum, you’ll recognize how much he and McKee have in common in terms of their power structures, use of women and feminism all wrapped together with a heavy dose of insane gore. Pollyanna McIntosh is equal parts terrifying and strangely arousing and Sean Bridgers as Chris Cleek is amazing. While issues do arise that the film goes a little too over-the-top, it’s the odd, simmering build-up provided by McKee and Ketchum that sell the film and in the end make you question your feelings on violence and treatment of women both in life and film. Does “The Woman” go too far? Yeah, probably. But I have no issue with that because the film is so smart and genuinely creepy that it never feels forced or as though it’s just trying to be gross. Definitely not for everyone, “The Woman” is one of the craziest, smartest and tension-filled horror films I’ve seen in some time.
Posted on April 12, 2011 in Reviews by Don R. Lewis
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- THE WOODS
- ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE
- FILM THREAT AT 2011 PHILADELPHIA CINEFEST
- THINGS GET “PRETTY/SCARY” FOR WOMEN IN HORROR
- CRIMINAL WOMAN: KILLING MELODY (DVD)
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