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The 2011 film, The Woman (written and directed by Lucky McKee and now available on DVD and BluRay) bares a title that is little more than an unassuming facade -one that is entirely unrevealing of the perverse and occasionally bloodthirsty content that lies within. So, what is the film about? Well, essentially the film’s focus rests on the ostensibly typical “Cleek family” that is living a variation of the mythological “American Dream.” The family is headed by a supposedly benevolent patriarch named Chris Cleek played by Sean Bridgers (who doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously) who is not only a beloved family man but a well-respected pillar of their small, rural community. However, this illusionary portrait of small-town family life slowly becomes subverted upon the father’s discovery of a feral woman living in the woods surrounding the family’s farm. What follows is a gruesome odyssey of indoctrination -where the father attempts to acculturate the Woman to human society and whose own brutally domineering mentality is slowly revealed -resulting in near-apocalyptic consequences.
Aesthetically, The Woman does not represent a highly accomplished piece of work. While, the make-up is certainly acceptable (particularly the make-up design for the titular feral woman, whose layers of caked-on dirt and forest grime provides for a jarring image) other creative facets of the film seem to be lacking in technical polish (particularly the musical score by Sean Spillane, which consists of abrasive guitar snarls and lyrics that in some scenes are about as appropriate for the thematic content of the film as playing the “Happy Birthday Song” at a funeral). Also, the editing of the film is woefully devoid in any sort of coherent vision. From the opening montage sequence (edited in the style of bad, early-1990’s television) to the incoherent depiction of the film’s many acts of brutal human mutilation, the final cut of the film could have certainly benefited from another pass through the editing room. There were certain moments of the film (particularly the climax) where it was somewhat challenging to follow the bloody action contained in the film’s narrative.
Technical quibbles aside, The Woman is a distinctive and genuinely disturbing piece of work that transcends such labels as “torture-porn” or “horror.” If anything, The Woman functions almost as a sort of satire -which takes direct aim at themes such as gender relations, the illusion of control and the human male’s inherent fear of unrestrained female sexuality. As a film, The Woman walks a difficult tonal line because, while many elements of the movie are presented in a sort of objective and realistic light, there are other aspects (such as the bizarre and stylized acting from some of the cast members) which seem to be indicative of the director’s intent to treat his story in a more fantastic or allegorical manner. The filmmakers’ are not accomplished enough to fully integrate all elements of the film into one cohesive vision and so some of the shocking power that comes from the film’s central thesis is perhaps diluted due to the difficulty in knowing how to properly relate to what you are seeing on-screen.
Still, the film’s central premise of a man determined to impose his will and control upon a woman’s autonomy is a daring and interesting subject that gives McKee’s film a visceral intensity. Certain subplots, including one involving Chris’s daughter, Peggy Cleek (blandly played by Lauren Ashley Carter) possibly being pregnant, go nowhere and fail to really add anything to the film’s discussion of the themes discussed above. The film is at its best during the sections where it depicts the father, Chris Cleek (with the reluctant assistance of his family) restraining the Woman in his cellar and where his attempts to instill “civilization” in her slowly reveals his own hateful and monstrous core. This concept of role-reversal (where the civilizer is the true savage) elevates Mckee’s film and imbues the horror of the story with maybe not a heart, but certainly a brain.
Adam Mohrbacher is a freelance film critic living in Chicago.
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