One of the problems that surround Lucky McKee’s films and the fiction of Jack Ketchum (co-writer of THE WOMAN) is the fact that there are rarely any likeable characters for audiences to engage with. The resulting horrors are therefore devoid of any suspense and rely almost entirely on gratuity for effect, often via the perpetration of extreme acts of violence directed at vulnerable females before culminating in a suitably gory demise for their antagonists.
Ketchum’s source material, in particular, has been criticised as misogynistic in its casual displays of repression and abuse, both physical and psychological of its female characters and its wanton displays of sadomasochism towards them. Consequently, a general précis of Ketchum’s horror fiction might conclude that the author’s writing is directed solely at an adolescent male audience that feed off the bland thrills garnered via excessive violence directed at various parts of the female anatomy. That’s a shame because one thing that Ketchum does convincingly is convey the disturbed psychology of his characters; whether they be haunted protagonists intent on justice for the perpetrator of sickening crimes; or the psychopaths themselves, warped by vindictiveness caused by a rough ride amongst the small-towns and backwaters that the American dream had long forgotten.
THE WOMAN begins stylishly with a competent title sequence, filmed within Massachusetts’ Greenfield-Turner Falls woodland that introduces a wild, feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) who goes about her daily routine of hunting prey, bathing and sleeping. Unknown to her, her habitual lifestyle is about to be interrupted as she has come to the attention of authoritarian lawyer, Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) who engages his hunter-gatherer tendencies and captures the woman and takes her back to the family ranch, where she is tied up in an outbuilding, with the intention of civilizing her. Aided by his reluctant wife Belle (Angela Bettis), son Brian (Zach Rand), and daughters Peggy and Darlin’ (Lauren Ashley Carter and Shyla Molhusen), things don’t go smoothly as the woman resists all attempts to curb her animal-like ways. Determined not to be outdone by a member of the opposite sex, Chris resorts to increasingly brutal means in order to facilitate his conceived male superiority.
McKee has gone on record defending THE WOMAN against accusations of misogyny and exploitation, citing the fact that the scenes in which the title character is raped and sexually assaulted are filmed in a non-titillating way. It is true that the sequences do feature close-ups of the woman’s anguished face designed to exhibit her distress as opposed to a focus on a gratuitous focus on the physical acts themselves but the question remains, why have the male characters rape and sexually mutilate the woman in the first place? This pointless exercise in sexual sadism, whilst reminiscent of much of co-writer Ketchum’s fiction, appears out of place in the film, and sends out a contradictory message to the positive, pro-feminist slant that McKee managed to convey with MAY (2002), that successfully subverted male expectations of the generic slasher genre.
To be fair, THE WOMAN, isn’t as bad a movie as some critics would have you believe, it does feature good performances from both McInTosh and Bridgers, though it is disappointing to see Bettis portrayed as the stereotypical abused housewife whose behaviour and obeisance appear decidedly uncharacteristic for a woman today, no matter how dominating her husband might be.
McKee wisely keeps the gore off-screen for the first two thirds of the movie. An attack on what might be a wolf cub by the woman in an early scene is shown in its aftermath, as are several scenes of assault on the feral prisoner. But with the final act, and the inevitable turning of tables by the repressed on the aggressor, horror fans are treated to a fairly substantial bloodbath for their money. There’s also a nice little twist in the tale, that enforces the film’s Grimm-like fairytale structure that just about rescues the film from mediocrity.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Lucky McKee
Studio: Revolver Entertainment
The Making of ‘The Woman’, Deleted Scenes, Short Film – ‘Mi Burro’, Meet The Makers, Music track ‘Distracted’ by Sean Spillane and 5 Exclusive Limited Edition Art Cards (HMV only).
The UK Blu-ray release also features an exclusive extra ‘The Film4 FrightFest Total Film panel with Lucky McKee, Andrew van den Houten, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Ti West and Larry Fessenden.