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

13 Responses to “THE WOMAN (2011) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. I felt like it teetered on the brink of misogyny the whole time, but never really tipped over. After all, it’s a revenge flick. Even the complicit mother gets hers in the end. Easily one of my favorite horrors from 2011.

    • My friend called The Woman feminist-misogynist; which makes absolutely zero sense…and yet.

      I have only seen a handful of horror films from 2011 and The Woman is definitely my favourite so far. In fact, the other 2011 horror films I have seen have been downright disappointing. Seen the Innkeepers the other night and I am not sure I want to waste the energy to do a review for it.

  2. Angela Bettis fan? Have you seen All My Friends Are Funeral Singers? It’s not a horror movie, I don’t know how to classify it, really, but it’s interesting.

    • I haven’t really seen Bettis in much, but always enjoy her when she does turn up. I looked up All My Friends Are Funteral Singers…sounds interesting. I will have to put that in the queue.

  3. Aaron Babcock Says:

    This is a really fascinating idea for a horror film (and genuinely creepy)! An interesting choice to make the insane father’s motivation “civilizing a wild woman.” Definitely some interesting social commentary happening here too. Great review!

  4. I need to see this and SIck Girl. I’m not sold on Lucky yet (I thought May was decent) but he keeps producing really interesting projects and the more buzz that surrounds his career, the more I feel like I’m missing out, Great review!

    • I can not recommend The Woman more highly. This film is definitely a trip, and an original one. With all the horror film remakes, reimagines and reboots originality is scoring big points with me these days.

  5. I’d ranked this as our top film of 2011 and watched it again tonight. You’re right-all the background items and tidbits the film hints at but doesn’t fully reveal make the Cleek family so damn intriguing even without the presence of a feral woman strung up in the cellar.

  6. Shite this one. Frankly.

    It’s in the same vein as Martyrs in that it’s trying to hide Torture porn behind a bullshit message- in this case, psuedo-feminism.

    Naked Emperor Syndrome again.

    • goregirl Says:

      Absolutely LOVED Martyrs and enjoyed The Woman almost as much! I definitely don’t mind a little torture here and there, and in a well-made, well-acted flick with mixed themes about religion, friendship and dysfunctional families it is all good in my book!

      • No, disagree. No qualms with TP in general, but I object to trying to claim the moral high ground with some cod-philosophy or tortured metaphor (no pun intended).

        Nowt wrong with exploitation- at least it’s honest.

  7. An excellent article you have written here, it really pinpoints every aspect of what makes the movie work. While i felt that the music didn’t fit the movie 100%, it seemed to contribute to it on a different level, you don’t really expect that sort of soundtrack to go along with this type of story.
    I have read a number of comments regarding movies that feature feminine characters that are similar to Jarvs. In all these movies, I’m far too absorbed by the story at hand to take in any perceived message. I wouldn’t expect this to be a movie that everyone would like, but I find it unsettling when someone goes out of there way to point these things out when we’re watching and talking about a work of fiction.
    Have you read Jarv’s review of The Woman? He uses quite a few adjectives to describe how bad Lucky McKee is as a director without clarifying any one instance or segment from the movie to back it up, and then he drives home the point of how much he hates The Woman’s feminist message. I’d say there’s as much of a “feminist message” in this movie as there is a message about leaving unsheathed saw blades lying around in your barn.

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