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The Woman

2011 | 101 min | R | 1.85:1

The Woman


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Theatrical release date

 14 October, 2011
 30 September, 2011

Country of origin

 United States



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Screenshots from The Woman Blu-ray

The Woman Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 30, 2011

In 2002, Lucky McKee made his writing/directing debut with “May,” a sinister little horror gem that created quite a stir with genre fans, all but guaranteeing the helmer a long, celebrated career and the adoration of gorehounds everywhere. The follow-up, 2006’s “The Woods,” was a dispiriting effort, tangled and ineffective despite evocative embellishments. “The Woman” suggests that perhaps “May” was merely a fluke. A bafflingly angry, ugly demonstration of dehumanization, the feature is a glacial, low-rent addition to the suffering subgenre, requiring the audience to not only sit through aggressive acts of bodily trauma, but long stretches of clumsy filmmaking as well. If there’s a larger societal point to this cinematic mess, it’s lost somewhere between the unsightly use of wide-angle lenses and an atrocious soundtrack that’s guaranteed to make theater speakers bleed.

A seemingly easygoing lawyer living in rural America, Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) has built a comfortable home for himself, obedient wife Belle (Angela Bettis), young son Brian (Zach Rand), little Darlin’ (Shyla Molhusen), and teen daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter). While the family facade registers contentment, inside the dynamic is falling apart. Hoping to refocus efforts, Chris captures a feral Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) while on a hunting trip, placing his prize in chains, keeping her inside a barn with plans to “civilize” her. Trusting Chris’s judgment, the family quietly goes along with the reeducation, looking to shatter the Woman’s violent behavior and make her presentable. Slipping into his new position of power, Chris begins to take advantage of the Woman at night, while Brian reveals a sadistic side to his personality, and Peggy is confronted by a concerned schoolteacher (Carlee Baker) about a possible pregnancy.

“The Woman” is an adaptation of a Jack Ketchum short story, with the author accepting a co-screenplay credit alongside McKee. The gentlemen have quite a twisted tale on their hands here, a devious saga of punishment and control, crushing the concept of the all-American country family by turning this clan into a cluster of suppressed disease. As far as I could tell, there’s really nothing about the material that warrants a full-length feature film treatment, providing a central tale of confinement and exploitation that would take roughly 30 minutes of screen time to exhaust. “The Woman” eats up 100 minutes of precious life, leaving the creative team with plenty of space to fill. It’s a shame they have so little to say.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what type of experience “The Woman” provides. It’s a horror movie, with abrasive incidents of torture and brute instinct to keep viewers on edge. There’s also a crooked domestic drama at play, tracking the depletion of patience as Chris’s human experiment gradually wreaks havoc on the supposed normalcy of family members. The picture is also darkly comic for a few short moments, attempting to add levity to a chilling premise. The tone is never developed to satisfaction, but what’s more discouraging about the film is its lack of surprise. Once the Woman, caked in dirt and blood, is shackled into place, the screenplay doesn’t really provide anything beyond routine acts of sexual and physical violence, making obvious points about inhumanity and corruption. “The Woman” inches toward a Ward-Cleaver-goes-bonkers ambiance, but there’s no kick to the atrocious activities. It’s just ugliness without any interesting edges or intriguing dramatic angles.

What’s truly stunning is how slapdash “The Woman” is. While a low budget swats McKee’s hands away from glossy stylistics, the movie looks like a student effort at times, hardly resembling the work of a man who’s already made two features (three if you count 2008’s “Red,” a movie where McKee was removed as director before completion). Unappetizing camera coverage and distortive effects run rampant, and the aforementioned soundtrack is chock full of tuneless songs and scoring, everything aiming to disrupt the viewing experience in a harsh sonic manner. A dental drill carries more melody than the tunes McKee orders up.

“The Woman” leisurely goes about its business, establishing a demonic itch within Brian (here’s a hint: it involves pliers and one of the Woman’s nipples), also keeping a close eye on Peggy’s escalating anxiety. There’s plenty of filler McKee attempts to pass off as “mood,” waiting for his chance to strike in the final act, where the film’s lack of intensity suddenly explodes into a wild, intestine-ripping showdown between Woman and the family, making room for graphic deaths and a taste of cannibalism. It would be a wonderfully gruesome climax if the rest of the feature showed some faint flicker of life, some substance beyond cheap thrills. “The Woman” isn’t scary or shocking, it’s just a disappointing, clumsy bore.

Starring: Carlee Baker, Shana Barry, Marcia Bennett, Angela Bettis, Lauren Ashley Carter, Pollyanna McIntosh
Director: Lucky McKee

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