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Simon Read [Film Festival 10.14.11] movie review horror

Year: 2011
Directors: Lucky McKee
Writers: Lucky McKee, Jack Ketchum
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 8 out of 10

My advice with this film is to just go and see it with no preconceived notions – as I did – and just let yourself enjoy it as an experience. I’d even recommend avoiding the trailer is it spoils what may be the most intense moment in the film. After seeing this I could barely walk. It’s a violent, brutal thriller with implications of social satire and a sense of humour so dark it makes Todd Solondz look like Wes Anderson. I’m preaching for people to avoid reviews, yet I’m obliged to write one so here goes.

We’re introduced to the eponymous Woman as she lives feral in the forests of Massachusetts, hunting prey and washing injuries presumably sustained from the previous film in writer Jack Ketchum’s series, ‘Offspring’. Meanwhile the all American white-bread Cleek family, dad Chris, mom Belle, daughter Pegg and son Brian, are attending a barbeque held by a neighbour. At first glance this is a seemingly ordinary family; dad likes his beer and a smoke, mom looks after the kids and Brian shoots hoops while Pegg mopes around listening to emo music. Over the course of the film however we learn more and more about how this family really works, with some extremely distressing revelations in store.

It all begins when successful property lawyer Chris goes hunting in the forest and spots the Woman bathing in a river. He thinks about it for a little while, and returns with a net to capture her, knocking her unconscious with his rifle. He ties her up in the unused basement of his large suburban home and tries to communicate with her, learning just how crazed and violent she is in the process. Far from alienating the man, he seems increasingly fascinated by her, and in a bizarre but quite hilarious scene he leads his family down to the basement to meet this creature, and announces his plans to civilize her as part of a family project. Brian and Pegg are fazed but agree to help out, while Belle just seems slightly stunned and numb. The Woman fixes them all with a gaze of pure hatred, and we sense that if she ever gets loose there’s going to be a major shitstorm. At night the Woman begins to struggle with her restraints until they start to loosen one millimeter at a time.

Given that set-up it’s easy to start second guessing where the film is headed, but one of the strongest elements of The Woman is that it doesn’t conform to horror norms in the slightest and is basically bat-shit insane from the moment Chris ties her up to the bloody and intense final act. The music is a key factor in the film, often juxtaposing what we’re seeing on-screen to great effect with a lot of kick-ass tunes.

The acting is first rate across the board, with Pollyanna McIntosh and Sean Bridgers as the Woman and Chris Cleek giving stand-out performances of incredible bravery. If horror weren’t such a taboo subject I would predict McIntosh getting nominated for best supporting actress, but then who really cares about the Academy these days?

Much of the film deals with themes of life in the phallocentric world which the characters inhabit; the role of women in society, their perceived and actual vulnerability and male dominance/insecurity. Interactions between the Woman and Belle are of key importance as they silently communicate with their eyes, both despising Chris and his misogynistic values, but each helpless in their own separate ways. One of the central arguments runs that the Woman is not a monster at all, but that Chris and his family are all monstrous in their actions and inactions, whether their intentions are good or otherwise. There are various layers to the film, which can be enjoyed simply as a horror flick, or as a reflection of society. I liked it as both.

They say that the best direction is direction which the viewer doesn’t even notice because they’re so wrapped up in the action on screen, and in this sense Lucky McKee is a very good director. Moments of incredible intensity do stand out however, and there were scenes which I literally had to turn away from as domestic violence is prevalent in the lives of the Cleek family, and the actors do such a good job that it feels unbelievably uncomfortable being in their presence, even although it’s Only A Movie.

While not a perfect film – the middle section drags slightly – it’s just such an enjoyable and brutal experience. After the screening there was the usual horror festival bravado of audience members loudly braying about how underwhelmed they were, but this reviewer was shuffling listlessly towards the outdoors for a much needed breath of fresh air and a moment to collect his thoughts. The Woman is, for lack of any better phrase, absolutely the real deal and a totally original horror film. I hope director Lucky McKee is on board for part three in the trilogy as there much room for expansion and further development of the title character, a horror-feminist icon: The Woman.

[Editor's note: Check out how one guy reacted when the film screened at Sundance and you'll get a sense of how powerful and disturbing The Woman really is.]

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agentorange (10 years ago) Reply

I've always been intrigued by the nature of Ketchum's writing. Haven't found his film adaptations particularly inspiring, but will add this to the radar for sure.


Haematobic (10 years ago) Reply

Alright, you've certainly got my attention. I'll be checking this movie out as soon as I can.

That old man kinda spoiled a few things I pretty much second guessed while I read the review... but that's ok.

Anyhow, on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being one of the "SAW" movies, 10 being "A Serbian Film" (9 would be "Human Centipede II"), what's its score in the Shock Deptartment?


projectcyclops (10 years ago) Reply

There are quite a few shocks! It's more about the atmosphere over the violence though. I think the audience expected lashings of gore, but it uses gore carefully along with a razor edged sense of tension and twisting of expectations. On your scale though I would rate it an 8.


Haematobic (10 years ago) Reply

Nice! I'm all for a more heavy atmosphere and tension over gratuitous mindless violence. It just feels better in some horror movies.

Thanks for the input :D


anon... (10 years ago) Reply

sorry but it felt to me like an episode of masters of horror, it was ok but not the film its being pimped out to be.


Gervaise (10 years ago) Reply

When I first heard about this film I thought it echoed the 1946 film directed by Jean Delannoy, 'The Pastoral Symphony', with hate and savagery replacing misdirected love but, after this review, I'm now thinking that a much bigger part is played by shock and physical violence. I'm looking forward to seeing it though.


Anon (10 years ago) Reply

Seriously terrible film. No redeeming qualities whatsoever. Avoid it to save your time and money. After seeing it at a fest, I would say that it doesn't even warrant being a rental.

Sad waste of effort and finances.

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