Monday, 3 October 2011

The Woman

 2. The Woman ****

Following his collaborative novel with horror novelist Jack Ketchum, Lucy McKee’s adaptation of The Woman easily bulldozes its way into the category of the most shocking films of this year. Pollyanna McIntosh stars as ‘The Woman’, a feral human who is captured by middle class man Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers.) Chris hides the woman away, chaining her up in their outside cellar, whilst telling his wife Belle (Angela Bettis) and children that they are to keep her there, to civilise the barbaric creature; to do ‘right’ by performing a public service. This, of course, is far from the truth.

While it is hard to place the film in terms of subgenre, this is not necessarily a bad thing. McKee effectively uses a clever mixture of a serial killer slasher, cannibal and feral human films, alongside a definite turn towards torture porn to create an original picture; a film rather different from his previous successes, namely his 2002 May.

The film looks heavily at domestic violence, the woman and wife both victims to the sadistic husband and to some extent, his misguided son. Although being labelled feministic and misogynistic in early reviews, McKee’s defence is that “ , and ultimately it is the woman who triumphs over the man in an explosive, revengeful attack where the film loses all inhibition in the last 15 minutes.

Although, because of the brutal nature of the captivation and violence, we are immediately sympathetic of the woman, McKee gives her very little to like as a character. She does not speak a recognisable language and rarely shows any distinguishable expression, other than to snarl and growl at her captives.

While the feral human is perhaps the most obvious candidate for the titular of the film, it is Belle who creates the turning point of the film as she unveils a long-awaited confrontation with her husband in objection to his mistreatment of the woman. From then onwards everything spirals out of control and the tone of the film changes from dark and unsettling to somewhat satisfying. In one sweet scene the layers of Cleek’s carefully built family rapidly unravel.

Wrongly, acting is too often discredited in horror films. However, perhaps what stands out most about McKee’s adaptation are the brilliant performances of the whole cast. Sean Bridger plays a madman-behind-the-scenes to perfection with a shimmering glow of normality to others outside his family and is very convincing as a psychopathic father. Opposite him, Angela Bettis takes the role of a physically beaten, emotionally depleted and weakened mother very seriously. Finally, McIntosh superbly adopts the role of a dirty beastly woman and, what could easily be seen as laughable about her character (such as her jibberish language,) instead reveals a menacing and harrowing figure. By playing half the film nude, being fed like a dog and powerhosed, she shows her bravery as an actress and full commitment to the role.

The Woman is certainly shocking and disturbing, compelling at times, but its overall brilliance and originality is a credit to Lucky McKee and although its outcome is suspected early on, the build from the first drop of blood shed to its bloody climax is immense.

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