The Woman is a harrowing and often darkly hilarious horror satire about family values, feminism, and the nature of violence from the twisted minds of Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum. A true find at Sundance for all fans who love gore and the twisting of Americana.
From the beginning of the film, it’s clear that the Cleek family of Maine has a lot underneath the surface. That’s made even more prominent when head-of-household Chris (Sean Bridgers of HBO’s Deadwood) bags a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) outside the family farm. Chris’ idea is to have the family train her in the ways of civilization.
The film is a slow burner at first that we know early on will take us down a dark and deranged road. Yet we have no clue how crazy this road will be until it’s too late. When it takes so many amazing and disgusting turns, all we can do is laugh, squirm, and be shocked by its blunt domestic violence.
On the surface, Chris is a successful town lawyer. Bridgers gives him a devilishly bleached smile, like a fantastic rival to Dylan Baker’s pedophile therapist in Happiness. Hints of quick slap or passive aggressive behavior are seen in glimmers as we get to know him and his family relationship with his docile wife (Angela Bettis, of McKee’s great May), teenage son Brian (Zac Rand), daughter (Lauren Ashely Carter) and youngest daughter (Shyla Molhusen).
McKee creates this family and their bizarre relationship to this wild woman as one of sterile and surreal items. They are like the house in Blue Velvet with all the insects crawling below the surface. There is also a deft touch of satire as they all slowly go insane and/or rebel against an evil patriarch.
The feral woman in the cellar is not as innocent as she appears to be. Some serious physical performance props go to McIntosh, who is stripped, tortured, and finally given her chance for revenge. A revenge that has a sharp edge of feminist liberation.
Ketchum and McKee’s screenplay is based upon three books about a group of cannibals living in Northeast countryside. This film has a spiritual prequel in Offspring, a film released by Sam Raimi’s Ghosthouse Pictures a few years ago. (Full disclosure: I have yet to see that film.) However, McKee and Ketchum are more interested in the horrors of the perverse family, giving us a horror show based in the sickening reality of Norman Rockwell paintings.
When most horror movies today are concerned about gory pay offs instead of character driven violence or death, McKee connects us to the family and their dramatic dynamic through a series of musically-cut vignettes that add a haunting layer to the underlying theme of American Dream traveling through the bowels of hell. While the main focus is on Chris and the woman, each one of the characters in the Cleek family give exceptional performances.
A subplot involving a nosy teacher and a possible pregnancy in the family seems out of place until we are introduced to a nasty surprise character that may or may not have been inspired by that horrible creature in a bag from Audition.
Yet nothing can prepare you as the climax builds from little drops to a full-on blood bath. It will make your skin crawl, eyes widen, and mouth drop. It is one of the most violent and maddening movies I’ve seen in a long time but it gives you an experience in the horror genre unlike anything you’ve seen before.
The Woman gives us a ride through the depths of picket fence hell. It’s a rewarding experience for horror fans that are tired of so many remakes coming out. It also gives the traditional dramatic indie world of Sundance a much-needed bloody kick in the ass.
The Upside: Lucky McKee has made a low-budget horror masterpiece that blends in drama, comedy, and gore unlike anything you see before.
The Downside: If you don’t like violence towards women or death by sling blade like one dude at the Sundance screening expressed. This might not be the film for you.
On the side: The novelization pf the film by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee will be coming out later this year.