Can't have people running around the woods thinking they're an animal. It's not safe.
PopGap #29: The Woman (2011)
I remember hearing about The Woman after it caused a stir at a film festival, and understood the plot to go something like this: one or more men capture a feral woman and hold her prisoner in some kind of basement. It sounded ghastly enough, and what I knew about director Lucky McKee, from his movies May (2002) and Red (2008), made me rightly expect that it wouldn't be for the squeamish. If McKee's movies have shown deficiencies in plotting and production quality, those shortcomings have not masked his talent for picking boldly gruesome ideas or his innate sense for when and how hard to push squirm-inducing buttons connected to hitherto unexplored parts of the horror movie nervous system. The Woman, even though it shows persistent evidence of McKee's weaknesses as a filmmaker, is nevertheless his strongest effort yet, with an ickily compelling plot and final act that pays off in big and unsettling ways.
One of the first big surprises in The Woman is that my initial understanding of its plot was in error in a profound way. Although a hunter (Sean Bridgers) does indeed discover a wild woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) living in the woods, captures her, and chains her up in a cellar, it's not merely for his amusement; no, domineering patriarch Chris eagerly presents his captive to his entire family: wife Belle (Angela Bettis), teen daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), teen son Brian (Zach Rand) and his youngest, Darlin' (Shyla Molhusen). The Woman, rather than being the pointed torture porn I sort of expected, is about a particularly nasty father and the effect his vile character has on the people who live with him, with this latest development bringing his flaws and the family's wounds into even finer relief.
All of the family dynamics in The Woman are intriguing, at least, and surely this component of the movie bears the stamp of grisly crime writer Jack Ketchum, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel. McKee is not particularly agile with nuanced character work, however, and other than a nice early sequence depicting a series of minor, everyday predatory acts at a party, only really engages as a director during the more shocking material (which is ample). Enough of Ketchum's substance shines through McKee's somewhat simplistic treatment to drive The Woman through a somewhat clumsy middle section to a deservedly chilling and surprising finale that is worth enduring some comparatively minor issues in the run-up. There's an odd, alluring coda after the end credits that hints at a vastly different movie which I'd also like to see.
I learned after watching The Woman that it's actually a sequel to a 2009 movie named Offspring, which features McIntosh in the same role (Ketchum featured the character in a trilogy of novels), and although that movie, too, suffers from some pedestrian filmmaking, it's fairly harrowing, full of viscerally effective brutality, and adds surprising layers of dissonant complexity and even a little poignancy to The Woman, making it a richer and more disturbing experience overall.
The Woman was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Ryan Swinimer, who can be found on Flickchart under the username Swinny. He ranks it on his chart at #238 / 5637 (96%), where it sits at #2 on his chart of 44 Cannibal Films. The Woman ranked on my Flickchart at #1332 (65%), where's it's my sixth favorite out of 28 Cannibal Films.
My Top 5 Cannibal Films
Notes on The Woman (2011)
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