THE WOMAN (2011) – The Dungeon Review!
Lucky McKee’s 2002 film May was one of my favourite horror films of the past decade. McKee dazzled me again with his outstanding Masters of Horror (Season One) contribution Sick Girl. Needless to say, I was thrilled by the news McKee was working on a new film called The Woman. As a bonus it features the intriguing Angela Bettis, who also stars in McKee’s aforementioned duo. The cherry on top is horror author Jack Ketchum co-wrote the screenplay. Ketchum whose works of fiction and true crime has inspired such film adaptations as Red, Header, and the excellent but brutal The Girl Next Door (review pending). Ketchum knows a thing or two about bad-ass horror! It is so very rare that I actually get excited about new horror films. I was filled to the brim with anticipation about The Woman and I am fucking elated to tell you that McKee sure as hell did not let me down!
We first meet the Cleek family attending a neighborhood barbecue. Chris Cleek has a successful law practice in town, a dedicated wife Belle and three obedient children; Darlin, Brian and Peggy. The Cleeks appear to be living the American dream but appearances can be deceiving. Whilst hunting Chris finds a feral woman whom he traps and chains up in the basement. The dedicated family man insists the wife and kids participate in civilizing “the woman”.
I loved how the film opens with “the woman” running, hunting and dreaming in her environment. The introduction, although brief, gave insight that allowed me to have empathy for the character and her plight. The very next scene we meet the Cleeks; whose brief show of normalcy is quickly dashed. Daddy Cleek’s hunting trip and capture of the feral woman quickly launches us into The Woman’s twisted tale. The Woman is a film that demands multiple viewings. I watched it for the first time last week and felt I had to re-watch it before I could do a proper review. If I had to sum up The Woman with one word I would have to go with unsettling. Capturing a feral woman and gathering the family around like you just cut down the most awesome Christmas tree in the forest is a bloody disturbing scene! The distressing transformation of the Cleek’s two teenage children Brian and Peggy is almost painful to watch. The films full frontal gory finale is pure insanity. At times it almost seemed like a documentary and the characters were aware they were being filmed. The Cleek family have secrets that are never divulged to us. What we do learn leaves you pondering on what other horrors this family has endured. The jet black humour used throughout almost made me feel guilty about occasionally smiling. I can only sum up by saying that The woman’s unsettling vibe is of the variety that crawls under your skin and stays there for days.
Sean Bridgers is strong as Chris Cleek. The heinous hubby and demented dad is cocksure, bombastic and pretty freaking unlikable. It is clear his family fears him, but we really don’t understand the depth of this fear until later in the film. Zach Rand plays the quiet and disturbed Brian. Clearly dad has had an influence over his son who seems willing to do anything to please him. Brian is well on his way to becoming his father. The Cleek women seem considerably less gung ho about dad’s “projects”. Angela Bettis plays wife and mother Belle. Bettis’ fragile frame and expressive face say so much without saying a word. Belle is clearly a sad and troubled woman who has no idea how to change her situation. She is both a sympathetic and frustrating character. There was more than one occasion I wanted to give Belle a good shake. But I understand there are abused women in every walk of life and fear keeps them in their situation. Lauren Ashley Carter plays Peggy who is shaping up to be just like mom. The pretty and once popular teenager is withdrawing herself from the world. Besides her troubling family life Peggy has a more pressing issue to deal with. Shyla Molhusen plays the cheeky and adorable Darlin; the youngest member of the Cleek clan. At this point bold little Darlin is the least effected by her circumstances. I adored the scene where Darlin sits by the cellar door with her little fisher Price radio so “the woman” could listen to music with her. I felt sadness for all of the film’s female characters. I had particular empathy for “the woman”. The woman can not communicate via words, but clearly emotes when she is hungry, angry or distressed. She is keenly aware of her surroundings and can sense someone in the vicinity unseen. There is no disputing “the woman’s” vicious killer instinct but her central motive is simply survival. Pollyanna McIntosh does an amazing job as the titular character. She is strong, intimidating, nasty, animalistic and unforgiving yet manages to be incredibly sympathetic. There is an awesome scene where “the woman” makes eye contact with Belle. “The woman” is pleading with Belle and it is clear Belle understands this and for a second we believe Belle might do the right thing. The Woman is definitely character driven but there is something here for the gorehound too.
The washed out look of the film gives it a rawness that lent much to the films vibe. If you are in it for the gore you will have to be patient. When the gore does come, McKee makes it count. The ending is a no holds barred cannibal gorefest of entrails and bloody violence. The effects are nauseatingly well done. Also commendable is the makeup used on “the woman”. Thanks to McIntosh’s hearty performance and the excellent makeup you will not question for a second that feral women exist and live in our forests. I thought that “the woman” represented the strength every female is capable of but rarely taps into. The one and only complaint I have about The Woman is its soundtrack. Peggy is never without her iPod and it is her playlist that becomes the soundtrack for the film. The music works very well at times. The song used while Chris Cleek is hunting is too perfect but by the end of the film some of the angst-ridden selections got on my nerves a bit. Much of the film’s music was just not my cup of tea. That said, it didn’t alter my feelings about The Woman.
The Woman is like a festering boil that gets bigger and uglier until it finally bursts. The Woman is my favourite type of horror film, the kind that gets under your skin and makes you think. The gore is merely a plus for those of us who dig such mucky-muck. The Woman gets my highest of recommendations.
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: Lucky McKee
Starring: Angela Bettis, Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter, Pollyanna McIntosh, Shyla Molhusen, Zach Rand, Lauren Petre