Notable Cast: Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis
Review: If you’re a horror fan, you probably know the story of what happened when director Lucky McKee debuted his “horror” film The Woman at the Sundance Film Festival this past year. But if you don’t, in short a viewer was so disturbed by what he had witnessed he dominated the Q & A by continuously bashing the harsh nature of the film, had to be escorted out of the theater, then proceeded to go off on Sundance employees for about seven minutes before he leaves still in a fluster. But could a film released in 2011 really beat the downright depravity of the “King of Offensive Films This Year,” A Serbian Film? Whereas the extreme sexual nature of A Serbian Film is what garnered its hate, Lucky’s hate comes stemming off the level of brutal misogyny mixed with graphic cannibalism. But that’s what you have to expect when you try to push the boundaries of cinema. Especially in horror, if you push too hard, there are always going to be people outspokenly against something that goes to a new violent place never dealt with before. Lucky and Jack Ketchum had to know the grounds they were heading into, but at the same time The Woman was and ambitious and creative horror story that’s about much more than just a flesh eater being held in captivity.
The main plot of The Woman centers around a feral, you guessed it, woman living in the forest (McIntosh) who is found by what appears to be a Southern gentleman type in lawyer Chris Cleek (Bridgers). It actually follows the Ghost House release Offspring, based on Jack Ketchum’s book, about a group of cannibals eating through the townspeople, and “the woman” in this film is actually a surviving member of the clan from Offspring (just to give you a little back story). Chris decides to show some of his Southern hospitality by clearing his cellar out and offering to civilize the savage woman. By that, I mean he traps the woman in a net and ties her up in his cellar, forcing his family to aid him in “helping” the woman. But this seemingly perfect family starts to surface problems of their own while Chris is putting all their lives at risk by keeping something in their house that only has one mode: survival. Can Chris and his loved ones properly teach the beast to be a fitting member of society, or will “the woman” tear this simple country family apart?
One of the major questions of The Woman becomes “Can you really “help” something that isn’t looking for it in the first place?”
The Woman was so interesting to watch because of the evolution the Cleek family underwent on-screen, being two totally different families from beginning to end. Categorized as a horror film, the expectation of the film for me at least was that “the woman” would be on the lose a majority of the film causing chaos and havoc. But instead, the horror we are delivered is that of hidden identities and twisted beliefs that live inside the Cleek family. It wasn’t as much gore and killings, but instead the emotional damage and sick mentalities that made you cringe. After watching The Woman, you’ll never be able to look at anyone the same again, wondering what demons are hiding inside of them. Sean Bridgers had a brilliant performance as Chris Cleek, being able to turn the switch from beloved small-town figure to the deranged womanizing psychopath with the snap of a finger, or slap of a face in this case. But that wasn’t even the best (or worst however you look at it) portrayal of the insanity. Chris’ son Brian (newcomer Zach Rand) was such a hard character to watch because you witnessed him slowly pick up the teachings of his father. You could see the devious gleam in his eyes the whole movie, and Rand did an excellent job bringing out all that hatred at such a young age. The unconventional horror threw me for a loop as I kept waiting and waiting for that moment when all hell breaks loose, but at the end the script brilliantly made me realize I’d been watching the horrific events unfold at a slow and steady pace the whole time.
But, since the film is about “the woman” in question, you can’t avoid talking about Pollyanna McIntosh’s performance. She barely speaks the whole film, is tied a majority of the film, yet is able to convey her character’s emotions just through those dagger like stares and vicious eyes. She was terrifying even though completely subdued. But when it’s her time to shine, Pollyanna brings all those animalistic characteristics flowing out of “the woman,” and delivers on that brutality we’re waiting for oh so long.
For what the movie was, I thought the run time could have been cut down though, sitting at 1:43. McKee used a lot of these long cut sequences at parts, drawing out the actions going on-screen, but most of them were not necessary. The film would go in slow motion but be stuck there for such a long time it became repetitive after a while. The Woman also takes a good amount of time to really start up and get good, trying to strike this tremendous build up of anticipation. That never really sticks though, and I found myself feeling the first half an hour seeming exhausting in the same way a two hour film would. But, on the flip side, the end payoff is so giving and heart pounding I totally forgot about my displeasure. Horror fans will dig the ending gory goodness which was missing for a majority of the film. A balance between the two would have been perfect, but I’ll take what The Woman gave me.
So did The Woman deserve the Sundance hate, or did some Utah prude stumble into the wrong movie. Here’s the thing about horror films: they are NOT for everyone. Take a look at the synopsis, and if you can’t handle the material, DON’T GO. And if you did hate something, say your piece and shut your mouth, because fans of the genre are the ones to listen to. It’d be like coming to me for a romantic comedy review: not really my cup o’ tea but I give a fair rating, so listening to a lover of the genre might give you a different perspective (but keep reading them anyway!). For this pretentious moviegoer to waste so much time complaining about The Woman, he should be banned from Sundance. The Woman deals with harsh topics in what could be described as brutal and revolting ways, but that’s why it’s in the horror genre. Horror fans alike should go see The Woman if you get a chance, but that’s really the only people I can recommend this film too.
Final Rating: 7.5 cookie men out of 10
Bringing home a cannibalistic woman? Aw, can we keep her?!