GORE IN THE STORE
THE WOMAN ****
Directed by Lucky McKee.
Starring Polyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis.
Horror, US, cert 18.
Released in the U.K. on Blu-ray 25th May from Arrow Video.
For a few, director Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN came to notice after its infamous Sundance 2011 premiere. After a number of walkouts one particular audience member made his displeasure with the film very loudly and a choice selection of his angry rant at the films Q&A is included in the films teaser trailer, which can be found on this stacked two disc special edition from Arrow Video. “This film oughta be burned. There’s no value in showing this to anyone!” Quite what he was expecting to watch is anyone's guess. What can be seen now almost a decade after its original release is that the film has lost none of its disturbing power and was ahead of the curve before the Me Too era turned Hollywood upside down exposing its twisted and shady power dynamics.
The film's premise, lawyer and loving father Chris Cleek, played by a convincingly skin crawling Sean Bridgers, discovers a feral woman whilst out hunting in the vast woods behind his large suburban house. The titular yet unnamed woman, played by a snarling Polyanna McIntosh, is soon captured and dragged home by Chris and tied up in the basement under the pretence of “civilising” her. His family's reactions run from the disturbed yet not completely unsurprised from his wife Belle, Angela Bettis, and troubled daughter Peggy, Lauren Ashley Carter. Then there is the all too curious voyeurism from teenage son Brian, Zach Rand, who is already displaying his own brand of troublesome behaviour at school. From the basement to the kitchen to bedroom it is a setting ground that is used to explore the issues of the various forms of abuse that women have to suffer behind closed doors, be it physical or mental.
With its reputation as a film that deals primarily in sexual violence and subjugation, what may have been missed before is the restraint that McKee displays right up until its bloody climax. The scene where Chris indulges himself in the basement is deeply disturbing but filmed and blocked in such a way that whilst not explicit leaves little to the imagination. The films most disturbing aspect, of why Peggy has transformed herself into such an introvert, is mostly left unsaid leaving the viewer to draw the pieces together. As a result it is all the more devastating.
Working with author Jack Ketchum, a man who never shied away from examining depraved behaviour, McKee gifted actress Polyanna McIntosh with what to date could be the role she is most identified with. Whilst working perfectly as a standalone film THE WOMAN is the middle part in a trilogy that continued last year with McIntosh’s directorial debut DARLIN’, wherein The Woman sets off on a quest to reclaim her surrogate daughter from a catholic school who try to civilise her own feral behaviour.
Before all this it all began with OFFSPRING, a 2006 low budget release directed by Andrew Van Houten. Based again on a work of Ketchum’s, which was also a sequel to his own OFF SEASON, this was an altogether less personal affair than its successors. Concerning the attack of The Woman’s clan on another suburban family it concerns itself more with the more immediate and straight ahead visceral thrills of cannibals vs decent civilised folk. Far less accomplished, the tribe of cannibals here look like Stig of the Dump on bath salts, it nevertheless works as a basic no frills straight ahead and nasty horror which Arrow have also included here with its own exhaustive set of extras.
While DARLIN’s UK distribution rights seem tied up with someone else for the present this serves as a pretty definitive release for both OFFSPRING and THE WOMAN. Both films have been remastered to pristine condition with a range of features and interviews covering the films productions, multiple commentaries and a booklet. As a package it may help cement THE WOMAN further as a forerunner to the incisive wave of horror that has been making more of a mark on the genre in recent years. As a film that engages unflinchingly with its no holds barred look at the savagery of both man and woman it also serves as a prescient highpoint in McKee’s filmography.