The hunter turns out to be local lawyer Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), a jovial, seemingly upstanding citizen who lives in an isolated country home with his wife Belle (Angela Bettis), teen daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), pubescent son Brian (Zach Rand) and kindergartener Darlin' (Shyla Molhusen). Outwardly a pillar of the community, Chris harbors a dark side that emerges when he decides not to report the wild woman's presence to the authorities; instead, he captures her and chains her up in his cellar.
Chris explains to his family that it's their duty to "civilize" the woman. They bathe her, put her in a dress, feed her something other than human body parts and try to teach her to speak. But Chris's hospitality is less than civilized itself; his "bath" comes courtesy of a pressure washer, he keeps his captive hanging upright in chains and he subjects her to all manner of abuse. His demand for discipline and domineering demeanor has scared his family into compliance, but in riling up what amounts to be a wild beast, he may have met his match with his new sadistic endeavor.
The End Result
Although it's been decried by some as misogynistic, it's not hard to read a strain of feminism throughout The Woman's treatment of gender roles. The "civilization" of the woman entails an attempt by a man to shoehorn her into the traditional female roles and behaviors as defined by society: a passive, mannered, well dressed sexual object. If anything, you could argue the movie is more anti-man than anti-woman (Frankly, I don't think it's either.), as all of the men in it come off as lowbrow sleazeballs. The concept is a lot like the controversial Deadgirl and falls in line with Jack Ketchum's penchant for exploring the dark side of humanity (see also The Girl Next Door, The Lost and Red).
The Woman earned its own share of notoriety early in 2011 when a Sundance Film Festival audience member (who obviously hasn't seen many horror movies) was captured on camera balking at its content, but it's actually not necessarily any more disturbing than Offspring, which likewise included an unnerving blend of gore and sexual violence, but added baby murder to boot.
Those of you who enjoyed the cannibal carnage of Offspring might be disappointed to find much less of that sort of thing in The Woman. For long stretches that focus on the family rather than the woman in the cellar, you may even forget that it's a sequel. Its terror is more psychological in nature and despite the disturbing content, Lucky McKee is actually quite restrained in what he shows on screen. Still, the slow boil does pay off fore gore hounds at the end, and while The Woman isn't McKee's best effort to date -- it lacks the drama of Red and the cultish appeal of May -- it's a solid addition to his often overlooked body of genre work.
- Acting: B (Bridgers oozes evil.)
- Direction: B- (Somewhat restrained, given the content, with a quirky touch of humor.)
- Script: C+ (Thought-provoking, if a bit heavy-handed.)
- Gore/Effects: B- (Not much until the end.)
- Overall: B- (Provocative and intriguingly insightful but not for everyone.)
The Woman is directed by Lucky McKee and is rated R by the MPAA for strong bloody violence, torture, a rape, disturbing behavior, some graphic nudity and language. Release date: October 14, 2011.