***1/2 out of ****
It's baffling to me that this film is being marketed as a straight-up horror film; because after watching it, I can say with much confidence that it's anything but. "The Woman" is more like a provocative and deeply perturbing drama with a blood-soaked finale; in which explosions of brutal violence come from all directions, lending it the label of a horror-show. Still, if you're observant of time; you'll notice that the nastiness only really starts in the last twenty minutes of the movie, although it's quite apparent that the film has been building up a whole lot of hatred and stark nihilism throughout the other eighty. Disturbing, pretty much from beginning to end, "The Woman" is perfect anti-entertainment; there wasn't a moment that I can say I actually enjoyed watching it, although it drew me in more than half the films of last year even had the potential or chance to, and I'm mighty grateful for that. It's directed with style, yes, but I think above all it should be admired and respected for the script; which shows great empathy and understanding for its characters, consistently messing with our perceptions of good and evil.
The Cleek family is an all-American one; a textbook example of their kind. They commute to their community, socialize within their home, and care for one another. And hey, look at that, even dad has a recreational pastime. The members of the Cleek household are father/husband Chris (Sean Bridgers), mother/wife Belle (Angela Bettis), adolescent son Brian (Zach Rand), young child Darlin (Shyla Molhusen), and teenage daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter). Every member of the family has their own issues: by the end we're convinced that dad's a psychopath, mother is genuinely weak and anything but strong-willed, son is quicker to ponder adulthood than most, and daughter is a depressed Goth Girl, minus the piercings. But these problems are just going to keep on stacking up upon one-another; as the biggest of big problems has yet to rear its ugly head.
Father - Chris - likes to hunt; and one night, he partakes in a rather eventful trip to the nearby woods. While scoping out potential prey with his weapon of choice, he spots a primitive woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) bathing in the creek. Entrapped by her alluring figure, Chris vows to return the next day and capture her, which he does. He then brings the woman home, has her hung by chains in the backyard cellar, and proceeds to devise a family-wide plan to properly "civilize" his discovery. She is underdeveloped, and cannot speak the English language like we do; instead communicating through aggressive snarls and peculiar teething methods (in a particularly gruesome scene, she bites Chris's ring finger clean off). The women of the family disapprove of them keeping this "thing" in their basement; although it's Brian who eventually sides with his old man, desperate to become on himself. In the next few days, we'll witness the dark side of humanity; one character at a time.
Say you've got a weak stomach, and you cringe at the thought of films such as "Hostel" and "Saw". If this is indeed the case, you definitely don't want to be seeing "The Woman"; for it is the kind of movie that is relentless towards personal preference or feeling. I mentioned earlier that it's only terribly bloody in its final moments, and I stick to my word, but there's an ever-building sense of dread throughout (not to mention some absolutely disgusting scenes in which Chris feeds the woman) that makes the film incredibly disturbing. It's a difficult watch, and it's generated some controversy over "misogynistic themes", but I object. In my eyes, it's a strictly feminist film; and if it's cynical towards any group of people, it's humanity as a whole. The film is not selective of gender, race, or social class; it tells a story in which just about everyone is evil, depending on your definition of the term.
A lot of people who see this movie are going to either hate it or love it. Nevertheless, you probably won't enjoy it. "The Woman" is not entertainment, but at the same time, it's not offensive or particularly exploitative either. Through dark humor and tense horrors, it creates scathing social commentary on those who we consider "normal" or "civilized". Its themes and messages have been done before, yes, but most Hollywood movies would have either sugarcoated the ideas that it has on its mind, or they wouldn't have dealt with them at all. This is a flawlessly acted, brilliantly directed art-house horror-drama with enough on its mind to engage and intrigue. It was ultimately compelling enough for me to care about its characters and resonate with its message. At this point, I don't care what anyone says: this is a fantastic film, unpleasant and strange as it is.
"The Woman" was written and directed by Lucky McKee; a sequel to Jack Ketchum's "Offspring", which got an absolutely brainless film adaptation. McKee has once again startled and moved me simultaneously, just as he did with his darkly beautiful "May", which was one of my favorite horror films of this past decade. "The Woman" once again proves that he has a voice; and it deserves to be heard. I can neither recommend nor discourage you from seeing the film; all I know is that I found it to be kind of brilliant. It got under my skin, it made me think a whole lot, and it's not a cheap morality tale; you know, the kind that I feared it might have been. But McKee does not disappoint. He has a vision, and even if it's an uncompromising and unforgiving one, he isn't afraid of anything. He survived the criticism and backlashing that "The Woman" received after its initial screening at the Cannes Film Festival, and this is where the movie has brought him. Through repulsion and disgust, he evokes a much deeper sadness that lies beneath. I hope people will see and admire the film; although I would also expect they'd cease to enjoy it, for to do so would be shameless and perverse.