I’m not a big gore and horror film watcher, which you might find surprising because I write a lot of darkly disturbing fiction. But I find often in movies, they’re going for the shock factor and splatter more gore than an abattoir. They’re disgusting but not necessarily penetrating, nor disturbing because of the story they tell. Maybe this is why zombies have become so popular. You can heap on the gore, entrails and gnashing of human flesh without much conscience. After all, they’re just undead, mindless animals and the real world has horrors greater than a shambling (or even fast running) zombie.
When I watched The Woman directed by Lucky McKee, written by horror writer Jack Ketchum, and McKee, I didn’t even know it was horror. I’d borrowed some movies from my neighbor and was just clicking through the unfamiliar ones. Right away I’m thrust into a situation that’s not what I’d call your every day world. Sure it looks like it. Streams, woods and sun filtered through the leaves. Except there’s a filthy feral woman, in tattered rags. These rags cover the essentials and she carries a knife so you know she’s been around civilization at some point.
The official site has the following description of the film: Family man and lawyer Christoper Cleek (Sean Bridgers) must do what he can to protect his family when he comes into contact with a feral woman (Pollyana McIntosh) living in the woods near his isolated country home. Through a series of harrowing encounters Cleek and his family quickly discover there is more to this woman than anyone would suspect and that sometimes the devil wears a handsome face.
This is actually an intentionally misleading write-up. I’ll be giving spoilers so if you want to watch this without prejudice skip to the last paragraph. From the beginning you see this very smiley family man but there is something wrong with the family. At the jarring switch from feral country scene to garden party you see a girl who ignores the boys flirting with her and looks back at another man. You see a man whose subservient wife gets him his drinks. His wife seems timid, his daughter cowed. But you don’t know the situation yet. As the story progresses you get the sense that there is something extremely wrong, yet Cleek seems a reasonable guy who loves his three children, who helps people out and believes in democratic decision making in his family. That is, until they disagree with him. When he goes hunting he finds the feral woman and decides to bag her.
While one could think he wants to help and humanize her his first thought is to keep her captive and of
course chain her, hand and foot. Well, we’ve been shown she is an animal and will kill anything to survive…anything. But never is there any thought to calling some city service to help this injured and degenerate being. Cleek’s methods of cleaning her are already brutal, cold and suspect and when his wife questions keeping her he casually backhands her. Intimations of incest are also evident and his son shows a cauterised emotional state that reflects the father’s ideals. There are dogs locked away in the barn, never let out and a growing sense that even the son is damaged.
The males become obsessed with the feral woman. She’s beaten, tortured and raped, and she is unrepentantly hostile. Pollyanna McIntosh’s portrayal is stunning. She is so animalistic that the best acted zombie cannot compare. But she is a thinking intelligent if wild human in this film Her acting was all the more stunning because the actor/model is stunning in real life.
The movie slowly, horrifically spirals into more nastiness, with reveals of just how deep the depravity really goes. The depravity isn’t the feral woman, it is of course the smiling, reasonable Cleek who is really a subjugator of women, a rapist, and more depraved than a beast could ever be. The movie ends with mayhem, murder and some gore. One reviewer said they would have liked it bloodier but I think this made it more realistic.
There were a few things that didn’t ring quite true for me. The feral woman has bangs and if she was cutting her own hair with a knife they should have been more jagged. Otherwise McIntosh is more than convincing as uncivilized. Sean Bridgers as the father is convincing except possibly at the end when a few lines rang as untrue. The concerned school teacher is naively trying to help in the disastrous situation and when she is victimized I felt she gave in too easily and did not fight back when it was her life about to end.
Overall, this was a truly disturbing film that piled one horror on another. There is a comeuppance at the end for those who are the perpetrators and those too weak to stand up to them. This movie caused some outbursts and outrage at the Sundance Festival. But then, that is the sign of a horror film doing what it should. Often they’re filled with gratuitous violence and gore, and far too many women always the victims. The Woman turned the tables on that trope though it starts out that way. It definitely makes you think and shudder. Yes, there was a bit of gratuitous violence and blood but actually fairly restrained. I’d give it seven blood splats out of ten.