It's September 2011... nearly nine months since an audience member at the Sundance Film Festival screening of the Lucky McKee's The Woman decided it was time to make moral and artistic judgement calls rather vocally that very few if any are qualified to make. Yes, the Lucky McKee/Jack Ketchum co-written gut-stomper, The Woman, does have a reputation for being degrading to women and appealing to a different type of movie goer valid or not. According to this as of yet unnamed fella, anybody who likes Mr. McKee and Mr. Ketchum's story must be misogynistic... must be sick... must be devoid of morality... must hate women. Was it a hoax or a publicity stunt hellbent on making some filmmakers a couple bucks? That doesn't even remotely matter although I think it'd be nice to find out the details on any flim flam. Regardless of the authenticity of the incensed festival attendee's reaction, it's safe to say every one of us knows a couple people that would feel that same way as that guy and would adjudicate us based on our viewing habits. Let's just label the antagonist in the unfolding festival melodrama the unsilent majority; hopefully of one. Let us just label the rest of us, those of us who have watched The Woman with moral compass firmly calibrated, the unsilent wake up call.
We do have a review to write here, but I feel it's of the utmost importance to do some house cleaning because in our little genre corner of the universe too often we get pigeon holed as the degenerates. We're really far from it. If the twisted tales we watch are more akin to Grim than Disney would have liked them to be, then we rate them R or worse and watch them alone in uncrowded theaters or on our own television without the grand dialogue a movie that challenges morality or flashes a bright Victorian mirror in front of our faces and says... WAKE UP! In our movies everybody gets raped (even the kids), everyone loses their heads (literally) and torture is a sack of a bread crumbs that couldn't help Hansel and Gretel get home. The morals within their celluloid walls are more than the sum total of the explicit scenes contained within. It's the very reason that we watch television with younger viewers; we want to make sure that they understand the ebb and flow of a picture. If you shut The Woman or I Spit on Your Grave or Last House on the Left or A Serbian Film off too soon you miss the point altogether. If you look at any of those pictures for the scenes that have given them notoriety, you aren't watching a movie; you're watching the commercial for a movie designed to play off the base emotions... the same emotions that might get you to buy a tube of toothpaste, not fully comprehend a social commentary much less a social slap in the face. Time to put the soap box away. Here's the video that we've all seen. At times we have laughed at it. Other times, we wondered when too many people at a theater would get together with a similar opinion and turn a film into an inquisition.
Without further delay, I give you The Woman directed by Lucky McKee, written by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee and based on the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name and is a follow up to an adaptation of Ketchum's book Offspring also a film.
I haven't read The Woman by Ketchum and McKee. You know how people always say that the movie is better than the book? Oh right, they rarely do. I find that just as it's scholarly to read the book from which your movie has been adapted prior to viewing the film, the reverse is also true. It's worth a try just as it's worth watching a remake prior to watching the original, classic. Also, I'm lazy. Also, I have no attention span. So when I do read it I'll have something to say about the way these two cohorts (McKee and Ketchum) in crime adapted it. For now let's focus on the film that everyone is a opening their Bible to page five to recant. Synopsis: When a stern, seemingly righteous family man goes off into the woods on a hunting trip he returns home without a trophy but with a captive human being. It soon becomes apparent that his mission to absolve the woman he has ensnared of her animal tendencies is a secondary to his own animal and degenerate desires. In the process of civilizing his prisoner his family will discover the gnarled roots of their own system of belief as well as who the real animal might be.
For those of you who are familiar with the novel by Ketchum or any of his other work you know that he's ultimately going to tell you a tale you do not want to hear. He's going to make you look at parts of yourself you've never seen and maybe even have you explore your own seedy past. A Ketchum film or novel is not the way to spend date night with your significant other and it probably won't win you brownie points even if your date is just as sick and demented as the rest of us seem to be. Not that I think anyone should watch this movie alone. It's the kind of film that deals with abuse of all shapes and colors of black and blue. It's the kind of movie that starts a dialogue that most people try to avoid. It's one of the reasons The Woman isn't going to hit it out of the park at the box office or get picked up to be shown nationwide to record breaking box office numbers. People don't want to see the truth; even once they've seen it. Rape, Incest, Torture... if we're keeping up with the Jones's sometimes you need to know with what you are keeping up. Was Mr. Moral Compass who paraded around the Sundance hallways post-viewing right about this film? Is it moral filth? This film is as important as any piece of social commentary that has come out since independent film producers started telling it like it is. If McKee and Ketchum were trying to open your eyes about the rape, abuse, molestation, incest problem in the United States at present that "normal" human are capable of then the only thing missing are the viewers to support them in their revelation, and there are plenty of them to go around.
Did I ruin anything yet with spoilers because I'm pretty sure if you wanted to see The Woman you have at least an inkling as to what awaits you. I might hint at a few things or outright mention more specific info going forward. I'll try not to give away the grocery store.
Angela Bettis (May, Carrie) as Belle Cleek gives a stunning performance as the wife and mother who is afraid to let out what secrets she is keeping. Her family is compromised of a few newbies to the actors circle including Shyla Molhusen as youngest daughter of the Cleek family, Zach Rand playing their impressionable son Brian and Lauren Ashley Carter as eldest daughter, Peggy, who has a secret. Their family is rounded out by veteran television actor Sean Bridgers as their father who at first seems like a model husband and father but whose dark side equals only that of the facade on which his image hangs. There isn't a cast member among them that do not deserve praise for their ability to play to difficult, emotionally taxing roles, but let us not forget about The Woman herself. Pollyanna McIntosh, reprising her role from Offspring, offers a showcase of powerhouse performances that are both painful to watch but offer the audience a unique vision of what the human-animal might look like in both the wild and captivity. Through the entire movie I was left wondering how she was able to evoke vocal performances that rival Mike Patton's I Am Legend creature voice overs. In delivering the forgotten language of human (not English) we can learn alot about body language and the sound of communication and not just the words of communication.
As far as the controversy behind what is and what isn't in The Woman let's go as far as to say it ain't pretty. I think I'd call it, "the torture of helping". It's the same kind of torture that ends up getting Dennis the Menace in trouble when he tries to "help" Mr. Wilson. So you want to take a wild woman and turn her into a god fearing, obedient, civilized young woman... clean her up using a rather unorthodox method (reserved for you deck). She bites too much? Well there's a fix for that too. The thought that an animal is not better off in the wild but is rather better off in our home is fairly common. It's also potentially not entirely true. Our convenience could kill them or imprison them. Yes, there's rape, but there's equally atrocious acts that parallel that kind of extreme violation. You can't cut this film for television, but its core audience should "get it".
The set design and location are perfectly chosen for creating quiet, American isolationism that embodies our struggle to communicate with each other. The make up and gore effects are the perfect balance of wet fluff and gooey peanut butter died red and sat in the sun for a few days. Not a stomach turner for the experienced horror fan, but might keep the amateur aimed at the bathroom though I don't think you'd classify it as a gore picture. It might even be borderline as respects the horror label, but we'll gladly accept it into our folds. For those of you expecting brutality you'll see it, but I'm not sure it will be as explicit as some would have you believe. McKee is tasteful in how he messes with your head. Sometimes not seeing those teeth come out is better, right? I assure you that by the end you'll be plenty satisfied with some brand new disturbing images of what human flesh can be made to look like.
The overabundant use of indy rock slightly off-putting. I'm watching a family degrade, a woman chained up in a basement, tortured, bathed and raped and all I hear are throbbing drum beats and catch guitar riffs with one exception, the opening sequence. I think if you put an edgier soundtrack behind this flick you might get the audience through a box of tissues faster or maybe even make the fingers marks over their eyes a little more red. Keep in mind, the music is quite good if you're a fan of Bright Eyes, but might have you scratching your head if you came for a serious movie (again, opening sequence aside). If its the only piece of this puzzle that fails the film I can put aside my own personal preference.
Remember that the most important thing you can take away from this film is that humans are animals - male, female, in the woods or at the dinner table. Who is uncivilized is just that subjective. There's no Grey Poupon commercial at the end of the tunnel. The Woman is about role reversal and putting yourself into your animal shoes... or paws, or whatever makes you feel most animal. While The Woman will seem bleak to most, and I assure you it truly can be interpreted as such, it's a story of new beginnings and not just of revenge although I won't be giving anything away when I say that everyone gets what's coming to them, and happily ever after, well, that's subjective too.