Directed by Lucky McKee
Distributed by Revolver Entertainment
Following directly from the ending of producer Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring, Lucky McKee’s The Woman opens with the titular character nursing a rather nasty stab wound in the aftermath of the previous film’s climactic decimation of her feral cannibal clan. Stopping in a stream to clean and redress her wounds, she’s discovered and captured by all-American family man and property lawyer Chris Cleek (Bridgers) who decides to make her his own little family project. Shackling his prisoner in the fruit cellar, Cleek introduces the rest of the family to their new pet with the stated intention of having them all work together to civilise her. Problem is, she’s a biter – and before too long we come to realise that the Cleek family is most certainly in no position to dictate what civilised behaviour is, and so a constantly escalating barrage of violent abuse builds to an inevitable climax of sheer brutality.
A no-holds-barred assault on the viewer’s sensibilities, The Woman will not be easy going for many audiences. McKee sustains an unflinching eye over all manner of disturbing and upsetting topics including incest, sexual abuse, torture, mutilation and domestic violence – the inclusion of all of which should come as no surprise to those familiar with the literary work of co-writer Jack Ketchum (whose novel van den Houten’s film was adapted from). Here is an unremittingly bleak tale in which monsters beget monsters, vile acts perpetuate further vile acts and, ultimately, malignant forces find themselves facing an adversary more vicious than even they. Any right-thinking, positive influences who happen to stray amongst the Cleeks’ machinations find themselves quickly brutalised, chewed up and spat out as a steaming pile of viscera in Ketchum and McKee’s world. This is seriously grim, heavy stuff.
Much of the successful creation of this grim tone comes via lead actor Sean Bridgers and his truly disturbing portrayal of the abusive, ego-driven Chris Cleek. An everyday father and respectable member of the community on the surface, the man is an unhinged savage underneath. Every scene with him pulses with hidden malevolence, while shocking spurts of unsettlingly casual violence towards his withdrawn wife (Angela Bettis, unfortunately not doing much more here than acting as one of her usual meek, introverted, rabbit-in-headlights characters) effectively frame a consistent knife-edge atmosphere. You just don’t know when this guy is going to lash out, at whom, and with what level of force. Pollyanna McIntosh is pitch perfect in her reprisal of the cannibal woman role carried over from Offspring. Chained to Cleek’s cellar, her every look, breath and movement signals a torrent of rage just waiting to be sprung – straight from the off, it’s obvious that there is no way this creature will ever be integrated with modern society, and Cleek has unquestionably bitten off more than he can chew with this one.
The supporting cast are just as capable as the principal players, especially Zach Rand as Chris’ psychopath-in-training son, Brian, while Lauren Ashley Carter deftly delivers the emotional isolation and perpetual melancholy of daughter Peggy. Her character does become quite tiresome, however, as the rather one-note, mopey shtick soon wears thin. This is a criticism leveled squarely on the screenplay, though, and not the young actress’ admirable efforts.
McKee’s use of music is eclectic and not always successful (though sound design is fantastic), as is his inclusion of a rather unconvincing plot twist towards the finale, but it does help imbue The Woman with its own sense of personality – a personality unlike anything else out there at the moment. This alone makes it worth picking up. Just make sure you know what you’re in for; this is very uncomfortable viewing and most certainly not for the faint of heart.
Revolver Entertainment’s release of The Woman comes in a very high quality package, whether it’s the DVD or Blu-ray that you pick up. Image quality is rock solid, especially in its high definition variant, while the 5.1 surround track shared on both discs does the job admirably. If you have the tech, you’ll want to go Blu for the inclusion of an extra special feature. Both discs share an informative and pacey “making of”, split between a dedicated featurette and some interviews, along with a small selection of deleted scenes and an audio presentation of one of the original songs from the soundtrack (Sean Spillane’s “Distracted”). The included animated short film Mi Burro is an almost psychedelic, Spanish language slice of weirdness following a young boy and the one-sided relationship between him and his uncaring, abusive, alcoholic, whoring donkey business partner. Weird barely begins to describe it, and it’s ultimately almost as depressing as the feature that it’s backing up.
The aforementioned UK Blu-ray exclusive extra comes in the form of this year’s Total Film panel discussion at London’s Film4 FrightFest — a discussion on American horror, past, present and future with Lucky McKee, Joe Lynch, Adam Green, Larry Fessenden, Ti West and Andrew van den Houten. As mentioned in our FrightFest 2011 event coverage, this is a solid (and lengthy at just over 40 minutes) listen, even if it does develop into somewhat of a venting of personal and professional frustration by filmmakers beleaguered by studio systems. A more than solid package overall, then, though the absence of a commentary track is glaring.
Blu-ray Exclusive Special Features
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