One morning while hunting the woods surrounding his property, a seemingly well to do family man witnesses a wild woman fishing in a river. He instantly decides to take her home and tame her, with the begrudged help of his tightly controlled family...
Straight off the bat, let me just say that I love both Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum. Both men have produced some of horrors most original works of recent years and both have stayed very true to their visions of our world as they re profiles and careers have grown. Lucky wrote and directed one of the most heartbreaking horror films of all time in MAY. And while his later works felt diluted by interfering hands, you could still feel his energy and sense his skewed worldview in THE WOODS and RED, (another work by Ketchum).
Jack Ketchum on the other hand, ranks for me in my top five horror writers of all time. Right alongside Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, Brian Keene and Edward Lee. He writes with a brutal realism that no one before or since in the genre has been able to match. His tales are pitch black studies of the human soul, and often leave you emotionally and psychically damaged. Ketchum's debut novel ranks among the most explicitly violent and savage novels a person is ever likely to read. Its called OFF SEASON, and along with its equally numbing and vicious sequel OFF SPRING, it forms the backbone to the world in which we find ourselves in THE WOMAN. In what is a joint writing venture for McKee and Ketchum, they explore the surviving character from both novels, and take the story into wild and challenging new directions, where few have tread before, if indeed anyone.Ashamed by the tame state of American horror, they set out to make a film that pushes boundaries in the way European films like INSIDE and MARTYRS have done before. They succeeded.
THE WOMAN shouldnt be viewed as a sequel to the very disappointing OFF SEASON adaptation, (which McKee had NOTHING to do with) Its a true continuation of the mythology found within the first two Ketchums books, and expanded in the third novel, written by both men. This is very much a stand alone piece. What the film does is take the one surviving family member from both books, and thrust her into an entirely new situation in which she is no longer the antagonist, but is the victim to something far worse than any savagery found within her natural habitat. Shes confronted with the cold, blunt evil found in every dark corner of the 'civilized' world.
And its THIS that the film is truly looking at. Control. The males strange urge to maintain ownership of the females in his life. this is a pitch black look at misogyny, yes, but its not fucking condoning it. What you have here is a film that CELEBRATES women in all their natural, ferocious beauty. It positively loves women. The same cant be said for its position on the less fair sex of our species. Whereas the women in this film range from victim to hunter, they are always looked at with sympathy and with love. Yes we see terrible things happening to them, but its not exploitation. The men are weak, petty, and self hating. There is a point to be made here about feminism and mans urge to temper it, that by the end of the film should be VERY clear to any thoughtful person.
Take for instance the fact that while the 'woman' is held in captivity and tortured in many ways. She still holds all the power. Her captor may be a mean, cold hearted bastard, but there is never any doubt that she is the more powerful of the two, and he fears her. That's reason in itself why he wishes to tame her. Male insecurity. A desire to overpower and contain energies we cant understand. Its very deep stuff and its played out brilliantly throughout the story. THE WOMAN can be looked at in a number of ways. As a study of male insecurities versus the female in her glorious natural state, wise and free. Or as a twisted fairytale where the monster in the forest is taken captive by the family instead of the other way around. Or how about as an argument for elemental instinct over a broken down society? this is a film with a huge heart and intellect to match. So, of course many people don't get it, find it offensive an d want it banned for the evil filth it is. The sad truth is, they just aint smart enough to grasp its concepts. Whats shown physically onscreen and what the deeper message of the work is, are a million miles apart. And anyway, for those who find this sort of art horrifying, its HORROR. If its horrifying then its doing its damn job. Any film that can elicit such strong responses and promote intelligent debate is certainly the definition of 'art' and should be celebrated as such. This film is not for everyone, but if you go in with an open mind and accept that your going to see things that will shock or anger you, you'll be just fine.
One of the main reasons I believe it may offend so many is the directors unique style of film making. McKee is a brilliant director when hes let off the leash, and its clear that's whats happened here. This is a full blown return to the form he showed the world with the universally adored MAY. Each shot is composed almost as a painting. Each musical cue seems wildly inappropriate yet fits perfectly with the borderline psychedelic imagery onscreen. The horrors sometimes elicit laughter, unexpected even by yourself. McKee is the definition of a 'quirky' director. He sees the world his way and wants to share. And its a magical world to enter into, even while its permeated with evils and cruelties that make you wanna bury your damn head in the sand. He understands cinema like few others, and has shaped the art form into his very own, unique will. And that includes directing his actors into almost dreamlike performances that may alienate many, but which further elevate the films razor sharp dissection of our society. From the very first scene its obvious theres something seriously fucking wrong with this family, yet nothing points to it other than the very subtle performances that are just ever so slightly...off. Its brilliant.
Speaking of performances, everyone here brings their all to the table. McKee regular Angela Bettis, is pitch perfect as the broken and frail mother of the family, and Lauren Ashley Carter as the troubled oldest daughter is both beautiful and tragic. Zach Rand exudes menace as the son who's following in his fathers fucked up footsteps, and lets not forget Shyla Molhusen, who is simply adorable from start to finish as the youngest of the kids and steals one the biggest laughs in the film. As great as all these performances are, the real showstoppers are the leads.
As the unnamed 'woman, Pollyanna McIntosh elicits a tremendous deal of sympathy for her titular character, only standing to show the power of her almost dialogue free performance. Shes a terrifying force of nature here, (helping along by McKee's amazing eye for lighting, keeping her in the dark and often having her eyes catch the light as would a cats). She represents pure and untainted instinct. deadly and beautiful, and often heartbreaking to watch. The depravity of her captivity is akin to watching a lion prowl its cage in a zoo. Torn from its freedom and its ancient desire to hunt, its left barren, and broken. thats ho this feels. This is one cannibal murderer you will want to see set free. In fact you may be screaming for it come the final act.
The reason for those screams come almost in full from the star turn of Sean Bridges as the family patriarch. As vicious, twisted and demented as any villain Ive ever seen onscreen. his performance is particularly chilling in that its so damned believable. His acting is the most bravura, and the most off center, yet it all comes together to bring to the screen one of its most hateful bastards. A foul human being who's capacity for violence is only matched by his ego. Theres one scene where another cast member is slapped, and in its bluntness, and the silent aftermath of this one act, theres more horror than a thousand gore fests. Its disturbing as hell, and that's as it should be.
So, you have brilliant writing and directing from one of cinema's most unique talents, and one of horrors most respected authors. A psychedelic soundtrack that fits perfectly and elevates the whole damn thing, characters that are as memorable as any I've ever seen in cinema, extreme violence and an intellect to match the huge balls the whole thing is packing. Whats not to love? All fans of extreme horror should see this film. Love it or hate it, it will definitely leave an impression for good or ill. I'm still seeing certain images in my head days after watching. Some things just cant be unseen or unfelt. Was it worth it? You bet. I came out of the whole thing feeling elated and more in awe of women than when I went in. We have another cult classic on our hands from two of horrors brightest lights. Celebrate horror, and, like Ketchum and McKee before us, celebrate THE WOMAN.
10 Elemental Females out of 10
PS: THIS GUY isn't celebrating, at all...