- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Bloody Disgusting
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t its most basic level, “The Woman” asks a straightforward question: Who’s the real monster, a cannibalistic mountain woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) or Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), the sleazy small-town lawyer who captures and imprisons her? Even though the answer is choreographed early on, it’s how director Lucky McKee explores the idea as the picture moves forward that sells the concept.
Cleek first spots the Woman while on a hunting trip. He fixates, obsesses, and then returns home to plot the capture and set up a makeshift prison in an outdoor cellar. He returns, deftly executes his plan, and brings her back to the homestead. So far, so good. Cleek’s aim is to domesticate the savage beast, and he forces his family – made up of his wife, Belle (Angela Bettis), and their three kids – into complicity in the matter. The Cleeks are a family in peril, smothered by every move the patriarch makes. They’re a family operating in the absence of love, headed for a breaking point. Will the Woman be the final straw?
Horror movies have in the past few years been going into some creatively unexpected areas. Movies like “Martyrs” and “A Serbian Film” are the cream of the twisted crop, while others, such as “The Human Centipede,” may get more attention, but are actually inferior works. “The Woman” falls somewhere in between. The film has gotten a fair amount of notorious attention due to an appearance at Sundance that apparently left at least one audience member ill, which makes the fact that it’s actually fairly palatable, at least by boundary pushing standards, all the more surprising. Indeed, there are numerous moments when “The Woman” feels as if it isn’t going far enough, but that’s simply an issue of taste on my part, as the average moviegoer will no doubt feel that it goes plenty far, every step of the way.
The performances are spot on, across the board. Bridgers’ Chris Cleek is the most repugnant character I’ve seen in a movie in years. There isn’t a single redeemable thing about the man, and yet Bridgers keeps him rooted firmly in the film’s reality, never allowing him to become a cartoon character. Bettis, too, does good work, offering up a portrayal of a spouse slowly smothering in a horribly abusive marriage, while Lauren Ashley Carter, as the eldest Cleek child, Peggy, offers the only signs of hope for this otherwise bleak family. (One could in fact argue that the movie is Peggy’s story.) But the standout is perhaps Pollyanna McIntosh’s central figure, who is nothing less than a filthy, stinking animal, communicating with little more than her eyes and a series of grunts. (Given that she’s tied up through most of the picture, there’s little more she’s able to do.) It’s a brave, unglamorous performance that exposes Jodie Foster’s “Nell” for the goofy, theatrical sham that it is.
Lucky McKee’s direction is undoubtedly a star of sorts itself, and there are times when the movie, through both image and sound, approaches an almost Lynchian type of unsettling nightmare. Unfortunately, in the final reel, the entire thing goes batshit crazy, which, admittedly, one expects it to, but not quite in the way it eventually does. A new element is introduced in the last 15 minutes that all but comes out of left field and seriously undercuts everything that’s come before. Yes, to a degree it also seems to explain much of what’s come before, yet I can’t help but feel that this is a movie with a botched ending. A medical condition known as anophthalmia is key to the goings-on. I’ll tell you no more, except that it might be a good idea to do a little research on the topic before going to see “The Woman,” otherwise you might find yourself as confused as I felt during the climactic moments.
While “The Woman” mostly works as a standalone film, it was surprising to discover that it’s a sequel to another movie called “Offspring,” in which McIntosh plays the same character. Further, both movies are based on books written or co-written by Jack Ketchum, who apparently wrote a third book (“Off Season”) which preceded both of these stories. So there’s a whole weird, fucked-up cannibalistic universe operating here that many people will be unaware of, yet may want to explore after they’re done with this film.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The half-hour making-of featurette begins and ends at the Sundance Film Festival, with one man flipping out after having walked out of the screening. Beyond that, the piece offers up a nice, well-rounded look at the people who made the film, as well as the process of putting it all together. There’s also a handful of deleted scenes, a short, whacked animated film from Lucky McKee called “Mi Burro,” and a pop music track called “Distracted,” by Sean Spillane, set to a montage of imagery from the film.