The Woman (2011)
Directed by: Lucky McKee
Written by: Jack Ketchum, Lucky McKee
Starring: Angela Bettis, Brandon Gerald Fuller, Carlee Baker, Lauren Ashley Carter, Marcia Bennett, Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Shana Barry, Zach Rand
The Woman (2011)
(18 TBC) Running time: 103 mins
Director: Lucky McKee
Writers: Lucky McKee, Jack Ketchum
Starring: Carlee Baker, Shana Barry, Marcia Bennett, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis, Pollyanna Mcintosh
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
2011 has been a strange year for horror, but a good one. I wouldn’t go as far to say horror is not churning out as much these days, but the market certainly does not feel as saturated as it did last year. This is not only down to the fact there have been a few less horrors of late, but I mostly put it down to the fact the majority of horrors this year have felt quite unique and original, and consequently making them stand out. 2011 has been the year of quality, not quantity, especially for the smaller horrors, and Lucky McKee’s The Woman is testament to all the above. A unique, chilling, disturbing but incredibly well crafted drama come horror, one which relies on a strong story and top class acting to get the job done rather than numerous special effects. There a very few scares here either, but the whole film engulfs you, seeps into your subconscious and leaves a bitter after taste, and will then linger in the back of your mind long after the credits finish. This is the film, if you remember, that upset an audience member so much at the Sundance Film Festival, that he protested, caused a scene and security had to remove him!
Lucky McKee made a huge impression on the horror genre with his debut feature length film, May and his films since then have never reached the heights of brilliance he hinted at all those years ago. Rest assured though, McKee is back and if The Woman does not dramatically change his career then nothing will. There is an incredible quality to this film, and intense and strangely beautiful and haunting feel to the whole thing and you will find yourself asking what is right and what is wrong. There are moral issues here which are often violently addressed and you will find some scenes hard to watch. The main questions the films seems to be asking is ‘can you tame the savage beast’, and better still, ‘do you have the right to in order to protect what is yours?’
Sean Bridgers expertly plays family man Chris Cleek, he is well respected amongst the country town community, he is a lawyer and has a loving, if forcefully obedient family comprised of his wife Belle (Angela Bettis), daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), youngest daughter Darlin’ (Shyla Molhusen) and son Brian (Zach Rand). He has his morale’s and expects his family to abide by his rules, he can be strict but only because he wants whats best for his family. He is a loving Father and husband, however the family do have their issues. Eldest daughter Peggy doesn’t speak much, her teacher at school believes something is wrong and it would seem she is pregnant by a former boyfriend. She needs to support of her yet to find out family, but Dad has other plans. While out hunting in the woods for dinner he spots a girl hunting for food in the woods, the girl is The Woman, the last of a tribe of people who live off the land and much is hinted at the fact she may, or may not, have been raised by wolves. Covered in dirt and with a savage look in her eyes, Chris does not take too kindly to seeing this ‘threat’ to his family so close to their house, and decides to head back down to the woods the next day to find this mysterious woman and capture her. His intentions are to tame her…
Pollyanna McIntosh plays the Woman and barely says a word throughout the entire film as she does not know how to speak. However, her presence is chilling and unsettling and all we really get from her are grunts and dark, cold and intense stares. She has been chained up in Dads underground storage room which looks like a storm shelter. He introduces her to his family, and now things start to get ugly. The Mother becomes jealous, the Father becomes obsessed with teaching the Woman how to be civil, the daughter see’s her as something to take her parents minds off her own problems, the youngest daughter makes a connection with the strange woman by playing music to her, and Son Brian starts to behave strangely, looking to his Dad for guidance. You start to feel very worried for The Woman, and even though she is far from normal, you can’t help but side with her. You do, however, understand Chris’ concerns and, to begin with, feel that what he is doing is right. However, as the film goes on, things become darker and more unsettling, The Woman becomes more of a prize, a trophy the whole family can enjoy, or use as an excuse for their own problems. The Woman becomes the centre of attention and the family start to break down, with violence not far away.
The film is helped along by a stunning score which would feel more at home in an America indie comedy rather than a horrific tale like this, but it works, brilliantly! The music is that beautiful, alternative indie sound that you find in films like Garden State, warm sunshine sounds, and when used to emphasise a horrific event or the sudden breakdown of each family member, it is quite something and very very powerful. One standout scene about an hour in see’s each character fall victim to their own personal issues, all of them crying or screaming while a gorgeous guitar track plays over the scenes of madness. This approach has been done before, but never to this high standard of emotive response, I guarantee you will be moved. It also helps that the performances here are all top class, with each character believable, which allows you to really get involved with the situation and become sympathetic, one character at a time.
Luck McKee’s direction is right on the money, nothing is rushed, but nothing is wasted either. There is a care here not to take things too far too soon, and it is clear McKee has matured as a filmmaker. At times he really holds back when other, more desperate filmmakers would not, but he also lets rip where necessary. I do not want to go into any detail about the plot and what happens, but believe me, things happen here which shouldn’t and you will find yourself questioning what is the right thing to do, and who is wrong. The good thing is you are not forced into choosing sides, McKee lets you make up your own mind and for that he should be applauded. This is horror film-making of the highest and most unique style you will see all all year, a style that would feel more at home at Cannes than in some bargain bucket in your local pound shop. This is horror with something to say about life, about family and how far you would go to protect what you love most. It also asks the question of whether we as a race have the right to interfere with those who do not conform to what we believe to be acceptable. Should we leave people to live their own lives the way nature intended, even if it means worrying about your nearest and dearest, or should we step in and try to protect what we love. I am sure you will all have your own answers, but thankfully with The Woman, McKee will allow you to decide. He is not making a statement, simply putting some ideas on screen and allowing you, the viewer who matters, decide. But, he does not make that decision easy and this is not an easy watch, but then, thats what horror is all about!