The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Written by Wendy Straker Hauser

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Faithful” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Other Side” – click here
Pic 1We start as we finished last episode, as Offred (Elisabeth Moss) falls into actual passion with Nick (Max Minghella). She thinks of it the next day, but laments it won’t happen anymore. “Sorry, Nick.”
The handmaids are out cleaning a wall of execution blood. Government officials are coming, so they don’t want any of the nastiness around to make Gilead look bad, now do they? Janine (Madeline Brewer) remarks how it doesn’t look the same without all the “dead bodies.” Amazing what you can get used to in Gilead. Back at home, Offred’s called to see Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), she preps the handmaid on the coming visit, a trade delegation from Mexico; the one which Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) went to arrange a short while ago. The woman of the house wants everything to go smoothly.
But will it?
Offred: “Reds my colour
We see Serena remember different times with Fred. They rushed to the bedroom in lust for one another. Although quoting the Bible’s a bit strange. Either way, there were happier moments for them. Now it’s all an eerie struggle, a routine, an elaborate, emotionless spectacle. Serena’s complicit in the patriarchy, despite any of her issues she continues trying to make her husband happy.
Pic 1AOne thing Offred, the woman formerly known as June, has not lost is her spirit, and her sense of humour. She’s very sly, in many ways. Also there’s a clear connection between her and Nick. He does his best, outwardly, to deny this fact. It’s obvious, though. And they keep it as quiet a secret as possible. In the meantime, Offred’s trotted in to see the delegation. There’s a vast divide between women in Gilead v. women from Mexico, for instance. She automatically believes the ambassador could not be a woman. Even as smart and tough as June was, still is, she’s been brainwashed, beaten down by the system in this nation-state.
On top of everything, she’s forced to say that she chose being a handmaid. When Ambassador Castillo (Zabryna Guevara) asks if Offred is happy, she reluctantly reads the script prepared in her mind. Sadly, she knows a woman’s place in Gilead. As do the barren wives, all too tragically. We find out more of Serena, too. She was a rebel. The ambassador puts it to her pretty hard and sees how these women, all of them, are trodden upon.
Ambassador Castillo: “Never mistake a womans meekness for weakness
More flashbacks show us a time before. When Fred was working towards the idea of Gilead, setting things in motion. Serena supported him every step of the way, which illustrates the lengths of her complicity in an authoritarian patriarchal rule. We see the divide between America then, Gilead now. Even Fred, he was slightly different. Before power took hold, anyways. Then suddenly he gets word about “three attacks” coordinated in several weeks. The beginning of the end.
So, as much as I pity Serena, I pity the handmaids more. She used an epidemic to subjugate the will of fertile women. Offred, and so, so many more, they suffer much worse because of what Serena allowed to grow in her own actions and support of Fred. Kinda like how I couldn’t give a shit now that Ann Coulter thinks anybody cares that she’s FINALLY figured out that Trump duped her and a portion of the country. Because she is one of those women whose toxic aid to the patriarchy of America has only made things worse for women who don’t hold the privilege of her status.
Pic 2Alone together, Offred gets closer and closer with Commander Waterford. Perhaps too close. It’s a dangerous game, even if it’s a part of a plan she’s enacting over the course of time. He feels wildly unpredictable. He asks for a kiss, which she grants him. Later she scrubs her mouth raw with a toothbrush to get the taste out.
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) has the handmaids out, well behaved, going to a dinner. They even get to sit at tables like normal people. Present and enforcing strict dress code, Serena requires “the damaged ones” removed. But Lydia says they are serving the Lord, therefore it’s worthy of honour. To Mrs. Waterford they’re “bruised apples” and nothing more.
More flashbacks take us to before Gilead rose, as America fell. Serena slowly sees her privileges erode. Once a writer of books, she was on her way to never being allowed to read one again, being pushed out of the bureaucracy of the coming changes. Fred actually starts coming off as a guy who didn’t realise what would happen when he started out. As if he was one of those bible thumping Republicans who began hard on terrorism, letting civil rights erode, then watched as it all spun out of control. But no matter. Somewhere along the way he wholly accepted the state of things.
In Gilead, at their fancy dinner, Serena is allowed to speak. ALLOWED is the operative term. The handmaids are honoured. Blah, blah, blah. All for show. Then the children are paraded through to music, those who’ve been produced in Gilead like cattle. IT’s a way of blinding the delegation. All the sour, hideous shit is hidden beneath this glossy exterior, fabricated out of the sadness of these women who are made to stand by and, some of them, watch their own children who’ve been yanked from their arms being used as propaganda.
Worse – Mexico’s looking to trade for handmaids. That’s so terrible, so ugly. What a heavy scene. With all the heaviness that’s come before it, hard to imagine this is so weighty. One of the subtle, toughest moments shows us a flashback as Serena gathers things together, throwing things away; outside, garbage trucks and men take all things belonging to women, truckloads, and cart it away for a new beginning.
Pic 3A rare lovemaking moment occurs between Mr. and Mrs. Waterford, going against the whole idea in Gilead that sex is for procreation only. Tsk, tsk. But I wish they’d get back to that, their old lives. Instead of raping women into pregnancy for their own cruel needs.
Offred beats herself up for acting in front of the ambassador and everyone else, saying she’s happy there. It rips her apart, and no wonder. Having to say that, even if she doesn’t mean it, just having to let those words out of her mouth is a form of giving up to the patriarchy of Gilead.
The next day when the ambassador stops by before leaving, June tells her it is a prisoner there and about the abuse they suffer. She tells her everything. She pleads for her to do something, but the woman refuses. Another woman complicit with the authoritarian patriarchy of Gilead. Disgusting. All in the name of making babies.
Ambassador Castillo: “My country is dying
Offred: “My countrys already dead
However, the man with Ambassador Castillo offers to get a message to her husband. He is not dead, and Mr. Flores (Christian Barillas) knows. He also knows that her name is June. Wow. I could see the whole episode his eyes were kinder, somehow he was sensitive to their plight. And dammit, I was right.
Pic 4What’s going to happen next? What a grim yet still beautiful episode. Christ, they up the ante every week with this series. Next is “The Other Side” and I’m anticipating other, bigger things will come out.


The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 4: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 4: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”
Directed by Mike Barker
Written by Leila Gerstein

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Late” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Faithful” – click here
Pic 1After Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) being subjected to genital mutilation, and Offred (Elisabeth Moss) not yet pregnant, suffering the misogyny of fellow woman Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), some might think Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t get any worse. Right?
Offred’s been banished to her room, “thirteen days so far.” She is under lock and key, worse than usual. She likens herself to an explorer in the room, rather than getting too carried away with memories. She explores the closet where her uniform is, but then lays there on the floor. There she discovers NOLITE TE BASTARDES CARBORUNDORUM scratched in the door’s frame. Translation: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Flash to Offred and Moira (Samira Wiley). We get bits of their lives in the well-scribed dialogue, including that the handmaids aren’t allowed to write. Another piece of the patriarchy’s dirty puzzle.
Pic 1ACommander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena don’t have much of a relationship, which isn’t exactly a surprise. “Weve got good men working on it” is his answer when she tries to give valuable input; albeit input into the patriarchal madness. Still, that divide between her place in that society and where she believes herself to be is always clear. More and more to herself, as well.
After fainting Offred is taken to the doctor by Serena, the first fresh air and sun she’s felt on her face in nearly two whole weeks. Even the rain is a delight to her after such isolation. She remembers Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) giving a lecture to the handmaids about possibly getting pregnant, moving in with their “new family” and such. They speak of “the ceremony” where the handmaids must have a rapey threesome on their fertile days. What we’re seeing is a lesson in complicity, in normalisation. Lydia and the patriarchy are conditioning these women to accept this hideous assault, justified with the Bible in perverted wisdom.
Aunt Lydia: “That is his word, dear. And we shall abide.”
At the doctor’s clinic Offred prepares herself for an exam by the doctor. It’s eerie, as he stands behind a sheet and her lower half is obscured. Far too clinical in an oddly puritanical manner. Doctors can’t even look at their patients, they must keep a sheet between them; not while peeking at the lady parts! Disgusting and weird. This adaptation of Atwood is chilling. Offred’s narration tells us that “sterile is a forbidden word” because their society of men has convinced themselves they are infallible. Even worse, the doc suggests he impregnate her because if the Commander’s sterile – many of them are apparently – then it’ll all be blamed on her, of course. Yuck.
Just viciously ugly. A stark look at the nation of Gilead. A place threatening not only the physical lives of women like Offred, it threatens their sanity even worse than today’s society (which is bad enough).

Today is breeding day. Offred’s been examined, cleared for what’s to follow. She goes back home and plays the part for Serena, asking to be let out from her room. No sympathy, though.
Flash to Moira and Offred. They trick Aunt Elizabeth (Edie Inksetter) into the bathroom where they take her hostage. They lead her through the building’s basement where they shock her, making her strip, so they can use her uniform. They tie her to a pipe then head off outside.
Back to the ceremony, breeding day. Except Commander Waterford breaks the rules a little. Things are supposed to proceed in a specific fashion. Instead he comes in to make another Scrabble date. Hmm.
Serena: “Blessed be the fruit
Offred: “May the Lord open
And so goes the ceremony, or at least it would if Commander Fred could stand at attention. He has… issues. Makes things twice as awkward having wife and rape mistress on his bed, so he walks out. Yeah, that’s no good for anybody. When Serena goes to help him out it’s like they’re no longer used to physical contact; sex has become no longer about pleasure, it is about power and breeding. He refuses a blowjob from her, too. Is Fred catching feelings? Ugh, gross. Either way, Offred doesn’t have to be assaulted for one night, at least.
Worse is how Offred internalises the misogyny, believing she is “not blameless” in that she could’ve shown him more affection, when he came to her before the ceremony. That is terrible. But what the writing does cleverly, in this not-so-hyperbole dystopian future, is outline how women internalise the hatred, many times totally unknowingly, and this happens TODAY. Not just in this terrifying Atwood adaptation. Remember that, men!
Flash to Moira in her Aunt costume taking Offred through the city. They see everything decimated, street signs removed and replaced, corpses brought through the square bloodied in a heap. In a subway station they look for a train to Boston. So militarised, every place they go. Then, as Offred talks to an armed Guardian, she lets Moira go off on the train by herself, as she’s taken back to the city. After her attempt to flee with Moira, Offred’s taken to Aunts Lydia and Elizabeth, who visit nasty tortures on her, whipping the bare soles of her feet like something straight out of the Old Testament.
Pic 3Pic 4Back to Offred, who uses Moira as inspiration to not let those bastards get her down. She goes to see Commander Waterford. They play Scrabble, he drinks and tells her of his trip to Mexico. THE MOST IRONY EVER: he complains a word she plays is archaic; such a perfect line for a man dominating an archaic society! On the shelf as she fetches a dictionary, she notices one for Latin, too (“knower of Latin, scratcher of words“). Once the game is finished they make a date again for after the next ceremony. And Offred does her best to try manipulating Waterford with that bittersweet element which at once gives her power and holds her down in Gilead: femininity.
Something that gradually comes out is the keeping of knowledge, how men and the patriarchy try keeping women down by filtering what they’re expose to and taught, or outright excluding them from knowledge (writing, language, et cetera). Of course that’s how authoritarian systems work.
We get a little montage of the power of women in the end. We see Offred recovering from her punishment having tried to escape. Other women bring her food at bedside, giving her strength and support. Through Waterford’s tale of the previous Offred, this Offred is given a renewed sense of life.
Offred: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.”
Pic 5Probably my favourite episode of the series so far! On top of that, Hulu renewed it for another season. How damn good can it get? Love so much about this episode, but as usual I’m excited for the next one. “Faithful” is next week; I wonder how much deeper we’ll go into the devastating patriarchal nightmare that is the reality for these poor handmaids.

ÉVOLUTION’s Sci-Fi Medical Redefinition of Gender

Évolution. 2015. Directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović. Screenplay by Hadžihalilović & Alante Kavaite in collaboration with Geoff Cox.
Starring Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Mathieu Goldfeld, Nissim Renard, & Nathalie Legosles.
Les Films du Worso/Noodles Production/Volcano Films.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.


DISCLAIMER: This review is a spoiler-filled discussion on the thematic aspects of the film. Usually I opt to discuss technical elements alongside theme, but because of the cryptic nature of Evolution, I’ve decided to solely look at the film’s meaning. Or at least what I feel it means.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-12-37-amLucile Hadžihalilović is a gem of a director and writer. Her work may not be accessible to every single viewer. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the time to explore. Her first full-length feature Innocence came to us over a decade ago, the story of a relatively ambiguous yet dangerous process, the grooming of girls at a boarding school for adult life.
Now, we swap genders and genres to take a look at a world where young boys are groomed, although for an entirely other purpose than the girls of Innocence. This time there are doses of horror, mystery, and a heavy dab of science fiction. The boys in this film are like a parallel to the girls of Hadžihalilović’s 2004 feature. Or rather, they may be a statement in line with them. This is something of which I’m still not totally sure.
For a pretty gruesome story, at certain (many) points, Evolution is equally as interesting. There area number of questions left at the end. Some will likely walk away confused and feeling slighted, as if Hadžihalilović didn’t give us enough answers. Others, like myself, might find them just enough, and good enough, to keep your brain mulling certain events, images, dialogue over and over.
And whatever the film is definitively about, one thing is for sure: you won’t forget some of what you see.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-22-57-amThe story is set in a seaside village populated solely with women, maybe in their mid-30s, and young, prepubescent boys. At first, there’s a quiet, idyllic quality about the place. You almost feel a tranquillity wash over everything. Without all that machismo and testosterone of a world filled with men, machines, noise, so on. But we get to a point where the nasty underbelly of the village is exposed, and discover the women aren’t the mothers of these boys, though they say so. They’re actually experimenting on the young boys. During the night, the women write naked, moaning together in the sand. By day, they watch videos of C-sections and implant the boys with medicine, force feed them nasty gruel, all in order to get them pregnant.
Oh yes. You heard me. So, is this a proactive smashing of patriarchy by redefining biology, literally? Science fiction has these women actually configuring the body of young boys to have children. And at this juncture, there are many divergent paths a thematic reading of the film can go.
One of my best guesses is based on the fact the women have suction cupped backs, like the underside of a tentacle running up their spine. First of all, they don’t look slimy or weird. It looks like they’ve either evolved from another form, or they’ve been transformed into something other than normal women. Secondly, a woman named Stella shows the main boy Nicolas pictures of doctors – which look like men, though you can’t actually tell (they have male hands, it appears) – with young girls, suction cups along the spinal cord. This seems to suggest the women were experimented on, as the boys are now. Aside from Stella, the women are cold and emotionless, to a robotic extent. She’s the only one to show anyone – Nicolas – any actual emotion. Therefore, it leads me to believe that perhaps these women escaped their own doctor captors, or a situation similar, and can’t reproduce. They then experiment callously on the boys like men once did to their bodies. I believe the women can’t reproduce because of the writhing sand scene: the women produce what looks like a bloody, dead fetus after moaning awhile together; assuming I’m right, this is a stillbirth and it suggests the women are infertile. Why else experiment on the young boys? Because if not then it seems their fertility work is born of pure revenge, a way to get back at the male gender for having treated them with such disdain.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-32-16-amUltimately, Hadžihalilović plays on the male fear of someday being treated exactly how women, particularly girls, have been treated since time immemorial. So many scenes take us to the limit, as we’re forced to watch these young boys, Nicolas especially, experience unnatural reconfiguration of their bodies. At the end we find out the women have abducted these boys from an industrial, modern-looking world, starkly in contrast to their simplistic and primitive village. The movie works as a futuristic fairy tale, an allegory about the male anxieties surrounding many men’s worst nightmare: what if we had to go through everything a girl goes through in order to, by society, be considered a man like they must do for us to see them as a woman? For women, beginning at a much too young age as girls, one thing is for sure: your body is not your own. Boys, men, this is a given; we own our bodies. However, the girls haven’t had it that simple. Evolution sees a sci-fi twist on gender roles to make those male anxieties come alive in a terrifying way.
Though hazy at the best of times the film is chock-full of symbolism. One of the most prominent and first to come about is that of the starfish. Sure, they can regenerate. They also represent the Virgin Mary in Christianity. It’s the fact they can reproduce both asexually and sexually which interests me. Much like the boys, who after the experiments would be able to both have a child and also impregnate a woman with child. Along with the starfish is the colour red. We see the colour repeatedly referenced throughout: a red shirt, Nicolas’ red swim trunks, and later the bright red hair of Stella. There are several symbolic meanings for the colour red, such as fire, blood, seduction. Which interests me most? Love, or passion, whichever you prefer. Why does it interest me? Because Nicolas is the only boy whose passion/love still exists. He’s the one in the red shirt, the red trunks, and likewise Stella, with her red hair, is the only woman to show any emotion (also notice that in terms of colour her eyes are not black like the other women; they’re blue). The other boys lack his thirst for knowledge. This ties into the other images, of the drawings. We see Nicolas draw a giraffe, a ferris wheel, all these images that are nowhere to be found in the village. In the finale we see Nicolas returned to the shores of that old industrial world of his, so it’s evident then that these are things he remembers, from back home, from where he was taken. But the red, his passion, it’s exemplified in how he refuses to become emotionless like the other boys or the women. Rather, Nicolas is unrelenting in wanting to discover the truth, to understand, to know, and his passion for knowledge, the love he feels in connection with Stella, these are ways for him to retain humanity.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-47-15-amI’m not sure what the true, overall message of Hadžihalilović’s film is, and after seeing the film a couple times I don’t know if I ever will, not positively. Evolution absolutely explores gender roles, though I can’t tell to what end exactly. Male anxiety is one thing, but there are many elements at play in this cryptic screenplay.
You can look at a lot of images, the symbolic use of red and the focus on the starfish among others, and draw your own conclusions. Please! Let me know what you think if you’ve seen the film.
We can almost relate Hadžihalilović’s story to a modernised fairy tale about what happens when we, the adults, interfere with the gender roles, or lack thereof, in the children of our society. The damage can be done on both sides, whether forcing them into certain roles, or even insisting constantly that they ought to be fluid and embrace both sides of their nature, whatever. Maybe Hadžihalilović is pointing out that kids ought to be left as kids. If we interfere too much the consequences are endless. But the consequences aren’t always good ones.

Female Psyche Under Patriarchal Pressure: UNDER THE SHADOW’s Haunting Allegory

Under the Shadow. 2016. Directed & Written by Babak Anvari.
Starring Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi, Bijan Daneshmand, Sajjad Delafrooz, & Behi Djanati Atai.
Wigwam Films.
Rated PG-13. 84 minutes.

screenshot-2016-10-09-at-2-22-27-amI am a die hard horror lover. While it’s the genre for which I likely have the most love, it isn’t always a bouillon of cultural inclusion. Sometimes, yes, there are movies that capture a situation other than the typical bunch of white people and a token black friend we see so often, particularly in slasher sub-genre pictures. That’s not too often.
Under the Shadow isn’t just interesting or an inclusive look at stories outside the norm for Western audiences, it is also just a damn good horror flick. Director-writer Babak Anvari allows us a look into life, specifically for women, post-Islamic Revolution (also known as the 1979 Iranian Revolution). He taps into the anxieties and fears of people living in Tehran after the events of the revolution. More importantly, Anvari focuses on the plight of women through a look at a mother and wife whose life gets turned upside down during a period of bombing in Tehran.
A lot of people see a PG-13 rating on horror and they say “Horror is no good like that” or “Modern horror is shit.” To them I say: open your eyes. This is a fantastic, visual, creeping piece of horror cinema. Instead of the typical plot, Anvari opts to explore something outright political. Simultaneously, he cultivates poignant points about what the revolution did to and for women; or rather, what it forced on them.
You don’t have to view this movie as extending solely to the women post-Iranian Revolution, although it’s obviously centred on them to a large degree. Under the Shadow can similarly, on a wider scale, encompass the experiences and situations of women worldwide, and what living under a constant, forceful pressure of patriarchy can do to their psyches.
screenshot-2016-10-09-at-2-32-30-amAbove all else this film acts as an allegory. The haunting experienced by Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is symptomatic of the anxiety many women must have felt trapped between two worlds after the Islamic Revolution. For those who don’t know, part of the revolution involved a want – on the side of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – to distance itself from American influence. For instance, early on we watch Shideh exercising to an exercise tape of Jane Fonda’s workouts. The significance of this is the remnants of U.S. influence, and the tapes, as well as the VCR which plays them, come to illustrate more about how progressive families, and of course women, were kept on a tight leash living under Islamic rule. When a man comes to Shideh’s apartment to fix the windows, she must not only rush to put on her veil, she likewise has to hide the VCR and the tapes, so as not to alert the authorities. This one element examines deeply how anxious, repressed, fearful the lives of many were after a supposedly great revolution.
This leads into the overall subordination of women, which we see represented perfectly in Shideh. The plot hovers around the idea of the revolution causing family grief within families that weren’t exactly pro-revolution. In the beginning we witness Shideh trying to get her university career back on track. However, because she fought for her rights, putting aside medicine to rally for a different culture and an apparently more value-centric life, Shideh is sadly surprised – as many women were – that the Islamic Revolution merely made her wear a veil, cover herself and relinquish all her rights to husbands, fathers, men in general, and afterwards she also had to give up her dreams of being a doctor (because she was politically active). It’s like a massive kick to the guts.
But what does that mean in the grand scheme of the film’s themes?
screenshot-2016-10-09-at-2-53-31-amShideh’s situation is an allegory, a microcosm of the female experience, both after the revolution, and also nowadays. Women consistently must bear the brunt of wars fought and started by men. Looking at the main character after the ’79 Revolution is a way to get right at the core of such issues.
The movie uses djinn as the driving force of its horror. Within that choice of spirit is a further peek into the fears of women. The entire revolution has called the abilities of women into question; no longer were they capable of making decisions on their own, from wearing their veil to being totally at the mercy of husbands who could end a marriage at any time for any reason felt was worthy. Moreover, the concept of motherhood comes into the equation. When Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), her little girl starts feeling sick and probably stressed out due to being a child while bombs go off around her everywhere in Tehran, Shideh doesn’t only worry. Worse, she starts to question her own abilities as a mother. This is in part linked to the djinn, a woman in a veil appearing throughout their apartment and the rest of the building looking to take Dorsa away, because her mother can’t take care of her. Added to that, Shideh receives phone calls from her doctor husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) who is away with the army – sometimes they’re normal, others she hears him say frightful things about her failings as a mother, a woman, and more. Between these nightmarish calls and the djinn lurking, Islamic rule looming large over women in Tehran, Shideh is constantly under the titular shadow.
She is under the shadow of war, of the veil, of Islam, and most of all, under the shadow of men. There’s one perfect image that explains how she, and many others, live under the shadow of war: as a missile lands on the roof of the apartment building, sticking down into one of the apartments, Shideh must perform CPR on an elderly man. This moment is so potent and yet almost gets lost amongst the tension. Aside from this image, the growing crack in the ceiling of the family’s apartment, similar to those in the house from Polanski’s Repulsion, comes to signify the constant anxiety and suspense, the cracks wearing through the home, which comes from living in such a difficult place and time.
My favourite image? There’s a scene when Shideh replaces tape on one of the windows, and as she finishes, standing back, the taped X sits in a shadow directly over her; she is literally X’d out, as in society. Maybe unintentional, or it could’ve come off as a nice use fo shadow. Either way, it looks fitting. There’s also an impressive jump scare, one of the best I’ve experienced in years – genuinely made me jump. A gradual build, as the screenplay feels in general, takes you with Shideh, step by step, before BAM! Grabs you by the throat, and it’s so brief you might find yourself winded a second or two, trying to determine what you just saw.
The performances all around are top notch, even young Manshadi in the role of Dorsa; she is both cute and full of energy. It’d be totally remiss of me not to talk about Narges Rashidi in the central role of Shideh. She is powerful, emotional. Just the look in her eyes during certain scenes is enough to pull you right inside her character. All the fear of inadequacy as a wife, a mother, a woman (because of male dominance) explodes from her. Rashidi is forceful at times, weak in others; she runs the gamut of the experience through which Shideh is going. Without her performance the emotional gravity of the role, and the entire film, may not have come through so magically. I’ve seen her in Asudem, and hope to see her more from this point on. One of my favourite performances of 2016.
screenshot-2016-10-09-at-3-02-55-amI could go on writing. For ages. Under the Shadow is by and far one of the best horror movies since 2010. The excellent, enjoyable frights make anybody whining about PG-13 horror movies obsolete. There’s enough spooky business in Babak Anvari’s film to last longer than its lean 84-minute runtime.
For anyone who isn’t acquainted with history, the movie also acts as a brief history lesson on the rights of women post-Islamic Revolution. But it’s not just that, either. The cinematography, the set and production design, they all make the film’s look spectacular and authentic. Furthermore, the atmosphere is nearly surreal for those of us who’ve never experienced living under the conditions of being bombed.
There’s one scene that subtly sets up the dream conditions throughout the screenplay. Shideh sits up in bed, sees her daughter Dorsa, holds and rocks her, all the while the camerawork pans and moves side to side with each movement – a fun few shots, and initiates us into the world of dreams Shideh must face. Only one instance of the fine cinematography.
You have to see this movie! It is a must, for any film lover and definitely any horror fans pining for better days. I cannot stop raving about Under the Shadow. For a first feature, Anvari has done wonderful things. Looking forward to whatever he conjures up next.

McKee and Ketchum’s The Woman: A Brutally Poignant Microcosm of Misogyny

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.
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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.
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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 bloody 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.