I’m glad I waited to write this review. When I first saw THE WOMAN, written by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee and directed by Lucky McKee, I must admit I wasn’t too excited by it. Not at all. I thought that overall it was too slow and plodding to hold anyone’s interest. I saw THE WOMAN on the first night of the 2011 Texas Frightmare Weekend, and as a result I was too busy over the next few days to sit down and write the review. So here it is, a full four days since I first saw it. Over the last few days I’ve found myself thinking about THE WOMAN a lot, and I’m not thinking about how slow it was. I’m thinking about how fucked up of a movie it is. “Fucked up” in the good way; the way that crawls under your skin and burrows and festers. I admit it people; my first thoughts about this film were wrong. THE WOMAN is a solid film made by a true artist who understands what it takes to disturb his viewers.
THE WOMAN is a sequel to 2009’s OFFSPRING (which is based on the Ketchum novel). But these two films are very loosely related, the only common element is the role of “The Woman” (Pollyanna McIntosh) recurring from the first film. But whereas OFFSPRING is a total mess of a film, with uneven performances, silly dialogue, and ridiculous plot holes, THE WOMAN is just about as serious and intense a horror film you’ll find. The film begins with us meeting the Cleek family. There’s the mom Belle (Angela Bettis), the father Chris (Sean Bridgers), teen daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), young daughter Darlin’ (Shyla Molhusen, who was discovered by McKee at 2010’s Texas Frightmare Weekend), and teen son Brian (Zach Rand). We meet the Cleeks at a neighborhood Bbq and immediately feel something is wrong with this family, even though we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is.
One day Chris is out hunting (they live in a very remote area, having no nearby neighbors) and comes across “the Woman” bathing herself in a creek. It’s obvious that “the Woman” is a feral being who’s been living off the land all her life. There’s nothing attractive or erotic about her. But Chris sees in her something that he wants so he captures her and chains her up in the storm cellar. His plan? He’s going to “civilize” her, and he’s going to do so by getting the entire family involved. Yup; Chris is a total sociopath driven by power and expanding his power. He has already attained all the power there’s to be had from his family, and now he’s looking to expand beyond his household.
How does Chris plan on civilizing her? I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is “nope” … this is not just another entry in the torture-porn sub-genre. This is a characterization of a sociopathic individual and how he’s successfully beaten down those around him (both physically and mentally) in order to attain the power he craves. But there’s so much more going on here too. His views on women in general, including his own daughters and wife, are that women are stupid and base creatures incapable of intelligent thought and not worthy of having any kind of individuality. And even more horrifying is that his young teen son Brian thinks the same way.
This is a creepy fucking movie people, and Lucky McKee (who I’ve had a love-hate relationship with for a while now) really proves himself a master at crafting a balls-to-the-wall, slow burn horror film. The material here is chilling because it’s real; it happens every day in the real world. There’s no limits to Chris’ depravity towards women in general and to his daughters and wife specifically. I don’t wanna give away too much of what’s going on here, but you’ll definitely wanna take a shower, a long very hot shower, after it’s over.
The performances by the entire cast are top-notch. McIntosh, who reprises her role of the cannibal woman, does a great job conveying a range of emotions through only body language and grunts. She has perhaps the most demanding role in the entire film being that she’s tied up most of the time. The son Brian (Zach Rand) also does a chilling, too-effective job as a young boy blossoming into a woman-hating sociopath (just like dear old daddy is). But the best performance comes from Sean Bridgers (the father). His role of Chris is one of the most chilling and disturbing performances I’ve ever seen in a horror film. Period. He’s not over the top with his eyes rolling around in his head as he screams his lines and tortures people. Chris is the most dangerous kind of character: He’s unassuming and charming and could be your doctor, the person standing next to you in line at the supermarket, or even your next door neighbor who you invite over for coffee every few days. Bridgers does an amazing job and you won’t soon forget about the character of Chris Cleek.
There’s also an anti-patriarchal streak throughout this film. Sure at the end of the day Chris hates women and thinks they’re inferior to men in just about every way. This is obvious. But I also got a very strong feminist message here; mainly in the character of “the Woman”. “The Woman” stands for everything that is natural and primal in women (albeit to the extreme). “The Woman” can’t be shackled by man, and even if she does find herself in either mental or physical shackles she never looses who or what she truly is … a Woman. In direct contrast to “the Woman” is Bettis’ character of Belle. She allowed herself be chained up a long time ago by a man and as a result she lost herself and her meaning and her “womanhood.” It takes a strong woman like “the Woman” to reacquaint Belle to her feminine side … and the consequences are catastrophic. The entire film and all it’s characters build up to a climax that you have to see to believe. It’s violent, gory, and extremely disturbing. This film is gonna stay with you for a while. (I must also point out that McKee explores, to an extent, the nature of violence. Which is more violent; a creature in their natural state or civilization? In this case clearly civilization is the more barbaric of the two.)
The most striking element in the film, besides the performances, is the soundtrack. The majority of the film has absolutely no incidental music. Hell, you could hear a pin drop in the theater at most parts. But every so often during really key scenes we get a blaring soundtrack in which the music is in direct contrast to the scene unfolding on the screen. You’ll immediately think of the rape scene from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
THE WOMAN is an extremely well-made horror film that doesn’t go down the typical path. This one will surprise, shock, and disgust you. Lucky McKee proves that him being labeled a “Master of Horror” is well deserved. Yes there are parts here that do drag a bit, but overall you’ll find yourself completely absorbed by the characters and plot wondering where everything is headed, and realizing it’s not heading in a very nice direction. Even the “bad guy” isn’t as easy as pointing at Chris and demonizing him. In some ways Bettis’ Belle and the young son Brian are just as big a monsters as Chris is (the horrors that Belle has turned her eyes away from in the household in a kind of “ignorant bliss” will disgust you). No, people, there’s a lot going on here and McKee proves himself up to the challenge of keeping everything moving along and making the viewer feel more and more uncomfortable up until the explosive ending. I can’t wait for this one to be released on DVD because this is one that definitely needs a few viewings to fully get and catch everything that’s going on. In another week or two there should be an announcement as to it’s distribution; I’m guessing it’ll be released sometime in the Fall with a limited theatrical run prior to that.
I’ve completely changed my mind and opinion about Lucky McKee. This is a serious filmmaker that utilizes many different genres to create a very unique kind of “horror” film that will slap you awake and realize that the bullshit big-budgeted Hollywood releases are doing it all wrong. Once again (as I continuously point out) we need to look more to the indie horror filmmakers … they are the future of the genre. Definitely check this one out!!
Director: Lucky McKee (& co-writer with Jack Ketchum)
Plot: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer