Monday, 24 October 2011

Movie Review: 'The Woman'

The Woman is, apart from maybe Let the Right One In, the best horror film I have ever seen. From director Lucky McKee, it is a shocking and disturbing work of art that tells the story of Chris Cleek, a "successful country lawyer" who traps a feral woman in the wild and imprisons her in his home, employing his family (docile wife Belle, teenagers Peggy and Brian, and cute-as-a-button younger daughter Darlin') to participate in this little "project". Needless to say, things don't go too well from there. I'll leave the story at that: anything more will give too much away. Hit the jump for the rest…

I was very excited to see The Woman after thoroughly enjoying a previous film of McKee's called "May" (also a pretty sick affair). And oh my, was I blown away by this one! There are so many praiseworthy aspects of the film, it's difficult to know where to begin. Okay, I will begin with a warning. When The Woman premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, it sparked quite a bit of controversy, including walkouts, fainting (some woman tried to walk out during the premiere, but couldn’t get out in time because the theatre was so full, and blacked out), a panic related injury as well as a crazy rant that found its way onto Youtube. Check it here. So, in the words of Lucky McKee himself: "If you're about something being brutally honest about the awful things that happen in this world, then don't watch it."

Okay, back to the movie. The aspect of The Woman that I found most appealing was the way it was put together; there were some truly great shots, and a perfectly paced build-up of tension that eventually leaves the viewer either screaming, laughing (because what else can you do), gasping or fainting (ie the woman at the premiere), or any combination of the above. One thing that stood out though was the use of music, which was some of the best I have ever seen (and heard, witnessed if you will). The soundtrack is by a musician called Sean Spillane, an indy veteran who actually sounds a bit like Kings of Leon. There's something about using strange, folksy music in the midst of some of the most intense scenes you will ever behold that just elevates those scenes to a whole new level. It apparently started with exploitation classics like Cannibal Holocaust, where the beautifully tranquil soundtrack by Riz Ortolani would play over scenes depicting the most violent brutality known to cinema (at the time). The effect of this, some say, is that the music appeared to condone the horrors being committed on screen, and ended up being a major reason for films like Cannibal Holocaust being banned in so many countries. Okay, the music in The Woman does not necessarily create quite that impression, but it has a profound impact that I find hard to put a finger on. One particular montage is perhaps the best scene I have seen in any film all year.

The cast and their characters were phenomenal. Horror movies often forsake character development in favour of other, easier to master, gimmicks. But not The Woman: Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum created some brilliant characters here, one of whom is probably the single most horrible piece of shit ever committed to celluloid (and boy, have there been some charmers). Pollyanna McIntosh was terrific as the titular Woman, a powerful and fearsome woman with a stare more intense than anything I have seen. And trust me, she does a lot of staring. Angela Bettis (who acted in May as well and is, in my humble opinion, criminally underrated) does a brilliant job portraying the bullied mother with more than just an asshole husband bottled up inside her; which brings me to the asshole husband, Chris Cleek (played by Sean Bridgers). Looking a little like a B-Movie version of Will Ferrell (known here as "Will Feral"), he's one of those actors you know you've seen in stuff before, but no more than that. Well, after The Woman, you will never forget the bastard. I don't want to talk about him anymore. Finally, the kids: I've said it before, but performances by children can make or break a film. Unfortunately, it's "break" more often than "make", but Lauren Ashley Carter (Peggy, the eldest), Zach Rand (Brian, the son) and Shyla Molhusen (the darling whose name is Darlin') may not be household names, but they all played a fundamental part in allowing this film to have the impact it has.

A number of adjectives have been used to describe The Woman in a negative light. As you may have gathered, the film is pretty divisive and the naysayers have been particularly harsh. The word I have seen most is "misogynous". Hatred of women? Come on, that is such absolute bull. If anything, this film is the polar opposite of misogynous… so, in fact, it is misandrist. Yes, the film does contain a lot of violence against and hatred of women, but not at the hands of the protagonist. Not by a long shot. The Woman is an indictment of men and their treatment of women, and a brutal exposé of the seedy underbelly of contemporary rural America (critic Brian Tallerico at called it "American Beauty meets Hostel" - spot on!). The message driven home by the film is therefore one that cannot be faulted. People who have bitched about it are undoubtedly just pissed off by the violence, and need something more substantial to sling at the film and its young director. I feel the same way as I did about Antichrist (which I seem to use as a comparator all too often), but in this case it is even more obviously a film which condemns cruelty against women. A noble cause indeed.

So, that's that. I loved The Woman and recommend that you see it as soon as you can. Don't expect it at Cinema Nouveau any time soon though. I will be watching it again next week, as it seems to just get better with every viewing. Indeed, that was Lucky McKee's purpose: "It's designed to be watched multiple times, and its designed to be completely different the second, third, and fourth time you watch it." The man has succeeded on every level, and I cannot wait for round 3!

Lastly, this is my second review only. So far, 2 reviews, 2 raves. I don't like every movie I watch, and should really review something I liked a little less, but I will probably only write reviews about films that have a real impact. So, why don't you suggest something for me to review? Send me an email, I will make the effort.

9 out of 10

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