The Woman. 2011. Directed by Lucky McKee. Screenplay by Jack Ketchum & McKee.
Starring Pollyanna McIntosh, Brandon Gerald Fuller, Lauren Ashley Carter, Chris Kryzkowski, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis, Marcia Bennett, Shyla Molhusen, & Zach Rand. Modernciné.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Spoiler Alert: This review in particular contains a large degree of spoilers re: finale and ending. If you’ve not seen it yet, don’t read too far, or don’t read at all. Watch the film. Come back. Have a look and a chat.
Both Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum are two artists I find incredibly interesting. Having already already collaborated together, in different forms, these two are a veritably nasty team. Dig it. And it’s because they understand some of the fundamental and nasty things about us as humans. A lot of what Ketchum in particular writes has to do with the basest desires of human beings. The Woman only further examines the lowest of the human spectrum going headlong into misogyny. Picking up around where Offspring, based on Ketchum’s novel of the same name, left off, this is the story of a lone woman from the cannibal clan of that first film. But more than that, more than Offspring, this is a horror film which speaks largely to the state of misogyny in our society, one that devalues women and runs by the rules and will of men. So many people pass the movie itself off as hatefully misogynist. And definitely, there are a number of brutal scenes that are violent, as well as sexually violent, even some others that suggest such things. This is undeniable. Underneath all that Ketchum and McKee explore a violent story that cuts to the heart of hate, speaking poignantly if not disturbingly about how the self-righteousness of men in believing they know what’s right for women is how dangerous misogyny, bred throughout generations, can take hold.
The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) is left alone, the last remaining member of the cannibal tribe from Offspring. In the woods, she’s found by Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers); he is a country lawyer who takes her with a net, capturing her, intending on civilizing her to re-enter society. At home, his wife Belle (Angela Bettis), oldest daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), son Brian (Zach Rand) and youngest girl Darlin (Shyla Molhusen) are all living under the grip of his steel fist. When he brings the Woman back to his shed, chaining her up, the situation at home really starts to deteriorate. And Chris is discovered to have other secrets already cluttering up the family closet. But the Woman’s introduction into their home life only serves to bring about the most uncivilized behaviour in them all.
Chris continually believes he’s civilizing the Woman, as if he knows what’s best for her and that only he can help her achieve civilization. He says she lives by fulfilling her basest instincts. And yet what does he do to her when he gets the chance? Takes out his most base instincts upon her.
Ultimately, this is not what I’d call a feminist film. Rather it is an examination of issues that tie into feminism. Chris Cleek symbolizes the patriarchy in general. His wife is completely subordinate to him. He’s likely raped and impregnated his older daughter. On top of that, he takes the Woman, as if by duty, and tries to make her into what he believes is civilized. Using nets and cages and all those tools of the modern world, men are able to ensnare women and trap them for use as they see fit. This an element of nurture, of societal gender roles. When out in the wild, the Woman is fine on her own. In fact she’s survived this long, out there in that state. Nature does not make her weak. Only society does. Out of all the women here, the Woman is the toughest simply because she’s the last of the women to be indoctrinated under the patriarchal rule. Meanwhile, Belle and her daughter, even little Darlin, have been forced into that role of subordination, following along with what patriarch papa Chris has them doing. To the point of absolute madness. So while there’s a heavy degree of violence that is outwardly misogynistic, the message of this film is not misogyny. Ketchum and McKee take it on with their viciously satirical parallel to the modern treatment of women.
Part of the entire premise is the fact Chris represents the typical male sentiment of taking what is yours. That old misogynistic chestnut. This is the reason by which Chris comes to believe he can simply kidnap a woman in the wild, chain her up, then do whatever he feels like with her. The delusion is his own, making it seem as if it’s all in the interest of making her fit for society. Like a twisted, primitive vision of Pygmalion. Luckily for the Woman, Chris ends up slipping into complacency. When finally she appears to him tamed enough, that’s when she’s able to strike back. Because ultimately, she is the most powerful. She has only been weakened by the nurture aspect of Chris, or by proxy society. By nature, the Woman is more powerful than him. Which is why he had to blindside her in the beginning to capture her at all. Furthermore, that’s the whole deal with rapists, sexual abusers, et cetera, is that they’re too weak and hideous to get it without having to blindside women, drugging them, overpowering them by surprise, and so on. Chris is a microcosm of the misogynistic male in every way, shape, and form. Worst of all he leads by example, and his son Brian only learns how to be a hateful, piggish man that treats women as objects. This is another microcosm, of how the generational indoctrination of these mindsets and beliefs comes to pass. During the finale, even Belle gets served up a heavy dose of violence simply because she’s not managed to do something, anything, in order to help her daughters and save them from her husband’s disgusting urges.
There are plenty of detractors. Although, The Woman is a 4-star bit of horror cinema. Looking at this is as the perfect microcosm of misogyny in society is the best way to view it. Not that’s it metaphorical. It is horror, raw and gory. Through and through. But you need to keep in the back of your mind that it’s meant to illustrate, in brutal fashion, the horror of misogyny. Pollyanna McIntosh gives a fearless performance, aided by Sean Bridgers as the menacing Chris and the rest of the excellent cast, each with their own talents. Both Lauren Ashley Carter and Angela Bettis are also wonderful playing very fragile, fractured women bearing the brunt of their own personal patriarch. The finale will likely leave your jaw agape, as the violence picks up wildly and blood starts flying. It is a good bit of horrific fun that pays off all the misogynistic behaviour earlier in the film. Watch this, but beware, it is not an easy film to sit through at times. At least not for the uninitiated.