Chris Cleek discovers a feral woman living in the forests behind his home, and decides to capture her and lock her away in his family's cellar so that they can begin to "domesticate" her... Or so it would seem... Offensive, appalling, and dangerous are just three of the terms that could accurately be used to describe Lucky McKee's exploitative shocker THE WOMAN, a film conceived from the novel that he co-wrote with critically-acclaimed author Jack Ketchum as a follow-up to The Offspring.
Where the violence and torture in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR are often condoned for their connections to True Crime, and the movie adaptation of THE OFFSPRING is typically shrugged away as being Survivalist fantasy, there is something profoundly disturbing in McKee's handling of THE WOMAN that makes it such a harrowing viewing experience. McKee's dark, cynical humor finds its way back into every scene, but given the difficulty of the subject matter, the audience is simply unprepared to use laughter as a safety net for the horror. It is clear, from the very beginning, that McKee is toying with his audiences, using bright, cheerful colors and an upbeat Indie score to contradict the dark overriding themes. The constant disruption of mood only works to amplify the director's twisted sense of humor. He never asks us to overlook the horrifying impact of the images or events on screen, he is simply highlighting them for their inherent absurdity. The torture, rape, and abuse found within the film are meant to be as disgusting and enraging as perceived in order to drive out an emotional response in the viewer. This is consistent with the gut-wrenching reactions to other ground-breaking Horror entries like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, or more recently, MARTYRS and DEADGIRL. THE WOMAN also returns us to the all-too-familiar theme of "Civilization Versus Savagery," which has been frequented by directors like Wes Craven and Sam Peckinpah in their films THE HILLS HAVE EYES or STRAW DOGS.
The cast is certainly not to be forgotten beneath McKee's choices as a director. Each of these actors and actresses are equally responsible for carrying out the unbearable acts on screen without so much as a wink to the audience. Sean Bridgers plays Chris Cleek as if he were Ted Bundy. Calm, cool, and collected on the surface, but hiding a soul of absolute evil. His wife and children are undeniably oppressed, with both Angela Bettis and Lauren Ashley Carter reaching deep into the dark recesses of the mind to find where abused women go to shelter themselves. They are utterly believable on screen. Their son Brian, played by Zach Rand, has inherited his father's sociopathic tendencies through constant psychological abuse as well. We pity him for becoming a victim of both nature and nurture. Interestingly enough, "The Woman" for which the film was named is but a side character, a catalyst used to reveal Chris as the film's true villain. He is infinitely more frightening than his new "houseguest."
THE WOMAN is not for all audiences. It is upsetting and morally questionable, but it is extremely effective in achieving its desired goals. Fans of Lucky McKee's work will find this to be his darkest project to date, but one that strictly keeps in line with the director's peculiar style and sensibilities.
Movies like THE WOMAN:
THE OFFSPRING, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DOGTOOTH, MARTYRS, JENIFER, DEADGIRL.