Film review by: Witney Seibold
Lucky McKee’s “The Woman” is easily one of the best films of the year. At once a lurid soap opera, a subtle look at psychological abuse in suburbia, a twisted sex fantasy, and a gorgeously gut-wrenching horror film, “The Woman” is a powerful feminist polemic wearing the coat of a pop horror fantasy. Both stirring to the mind and undeniably visceral, “The Woman” is a brutal adolescent examination of family dynamics, but with the added bonus of having a violent and bloody climax. McKee has now, with this film, and with his 2002 feature “May,” proven to be a stellar filmmaker who plays like a twisted combination of Pedro Almodovar and Wes Craven.
“The Woman” follows the suburban misadventures of the Cleek family, living in a small town in Middle America. These are perfectly well-to-do people. The patron of the family, Chris (Sean Bridgers) has a friendly face, and a stern rule-bound life philosophy. He tends to browbeat his family. His long-suffering wife Belle (Angela Bettis) seems to live in constant fear. When she expresses even the smallest doubt in her husband, he slaps her into place. Chris is not, however, a drunken monster or a punch-throwing maniac. He is even more insidious. He is a psychological manipulator. His older daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) seems to be living in constant fear, and is wearing increasingly drapey clothing (hm…), a trend only noticed by her pretty lesbian teacher Genevieve (Carlee Baker), who is genuinely concerned, but may perhaps be attracted to Peggy. Only the son Walter (Tommy Nelson) seems comfortable with the family life, and he seems to be taking after his father a little too much.
Chris finds a wild woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) out in the woods, captures her, and keeps in the storm cellar in the hope of civilizing her. The woman is a feral and knowing – almost supernatural – presence. It’s unclear why Chris is so enthused about this new project of his, especially after the woman bites of and eats his ring finger. The introduction of the woman into their lives causes the true suburban panic of this family to come to the surface. Eventually we learn the true depth of Chris’ depravity, and how bad these people have had it all along.
But make no mistake. This is no usual angst-ridden suburban drama about the explosion of the nuclear family. McKee has more on his mind. Using a horror-like situation, and subtle, slow-burning blood suffering, he seems to be making a powerful point about the way women are treated, and just what they’re capable of, both positive and negative. He seems to see abused women as capable and dynamic people who can leave their situations, and can easily be cowed into doing the most horrible things. On the flipside, women can be wild animals, easily able to be the spirit of vengeance they need to be. By turns thoughtful, painful, intelligent and good-looking, “The Woman” may also easily be called one of the best horror films of the last decade. McKee seems to have a keen eye for stories that, at first glance, seem melodramatic and typical of the teenage gorehound, but prove to be intelligent an thoughtful dramas. But, y’know, often with a good helping of energetic camp.
I don’t want to say too much else, as the film’s surprises should remain surprises. I will say that there is a hugely violent climax with new revelations and horrors that I haven’t even hinted at.
I will say that this is a film that should be sought out. This is one that people will be mentioning in a few years’ time.