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by Eric Kohn
October 10, 2011 4:52 AM
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REVIEW | "The Woman" Earns Its Sundance Controversy, But Fails To Reach That Potential

An image from "The Woman."

Loaded with torture, rape, and other explicit abuses enacted on a variety of female characters by a single oppressive male, Lucky McKee's grim parable "The Woman" earns its status as the most controversial movie from January's Sundance Film Festival. However, because that reputation has no mind of its own, it buries the function of those grisly acts.

It's fair to say that "The Woman," in which backcountry lawyer Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) captures a cave dweller in the neighboring forest and locks her in his shed, intends to critique fundamental constructs about female domesticity. But it does so with a schoolyard sense of justice that deadens its potential to rise above outright condemnations of its content. It's impossible to defend "The Woman" without also admitting its flaws.

Adapted from the novel by McKee and Jack Ketchum, "The Woman" technically begins where the 2009 Ketchum adaptation "Offspring" left off, with the last surviving member of a feral clan (Pollyanna McIntosh, in a physically extreme performance) wandering the woods in a desperate bid to survive. That's when Chris nabs her and brings her back to his own clan, a trio of submissive kin made up of his meek wife Belle (Angela Bettis), admiring son Brian (Zach Rand), mopey teenage daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) and her clueless younger sister Darlin' (Shyla Molhusen). Chaining up his prisoner and deeming her the family's "project," he subjects her to a series of twisted lessons in civilized behavior.

At least, that's what he claims to do. Instead, much of "The Woman" involves the psychotic Chris' continually demeaning acts against the woman to assert his authority, which grows to resemble his larger disdain for the second sex. As a showcase of brutish misogyny and the ripples of trauma it creates, "The Woman" maintains a steady critical perspective, mainly due to a group of deeply felt performances.

With ironically upbeat musical montages and the the developing frustration and confusion over Chris' domineering behavior shared by certain members of the household, McKee crafts a unique experience that's neither outright horror or complete satire, but rather a near-perceptive breakdown of the modern family. There's only enough there, however, to hint at a sharper indictment that never arrives.

From the moment that Chris loses a finger to his captive, it's clear that the tables will eventually turn; McKee certainly doesn't celebrate Chris as the hero of his story. Nevertheless, the only thing controversial about "The Woman" is its failure to trump disdain for its fairly explicit displays. McKee successfully turns Chris' prisoner into a metaphor for the inherent chauvinism of the modern American household, but he doesn't apply it to any decisive end. Instead, the movie drowns the premise in an empty display of bloody revenge. There are plenty of guts, but "The Woman" doesn't have enough to make its feminist rhetoric stick.

criticWIRE grade: B-

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Despite the controversial angle, "The Woman" is being released by the small management and content company The Collective in partnership with BloodyDisgusting.com, which probably won't be able to garner it much in the way of box office receipts when it opens this Friday. But it may generate enough word-of-mouth in the horror community to find a warm home on VOD.

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3 Comments

  • Bob | October 13, 2012 12:38 AMReply

    +1 to james brice's comment right there. I think you're making a mistake when you say "McKee successfully turns Chris' prisoner into a metaphor for the inherent chauvinism of the modern American household, but he doesn't apply it to any decisive end." Intuitively I would say that Chris himself is the metaphor for chauvinism, not The Woman. Also, I don't think that McKee is asserting that chauvinism is "inherent" in the modern household any more than women are inherently victimized or feral, face eating cave dwellers.

  • NameJames Brice | April 13, 2012 5:54 PMReply

    Your CommentOnce again shows how this movie is totally misunderstood. Kohn says ''The Woman' doesn't have enough to make its feminist rhetoric stick". That is because the movie has as much contempt for the feminist as it does for the weak-willed Stepford wife who sticks next to Cleeg no matter what he does. The feminist teacher is shown to be no more effective and is eaten alive, ironically, by the most male abused character in the film. The Woman herself is the ultimate Femalist. Take her to a feminist gathering and she would be killing and butchering the slow witted smorgasbord of pant-skirted weaklings. Feminism is shown for the joke it truly is in this outstanding film, where women are either strong and become victors, or are weak whiny snivelling brats who hide behind the law and/or their husbands. The Woman doesn't judge by sex...she simply wants to see what you bring to the table...then maybe she will make you a part of the clan instead of eating you.

  • James Brice | April 11, 2012 2:13 PMReply

    The Woman makes one think on many different level. There is a apparent epidemic sread across the world of woman and girl abuse as expressed by Cleek's family. This represensts society's evil as the older people in the family know that they are acting wrongly and do so out of daily comfort and cowardicd.
    The Woman is completely the opposite. Trained as well as any Indian huntress, incredibly fast, supernaturally strong and possessing a feralness that know no quarter, regular civilized people don't have a change against this noble beast. She can out hunt you , track you down, she much faster and is trained to kill without conscience. Civilazion cnnot compete. To her, if the kill is good, the body figths, but the strong spirit within the body is set free and is happy. The are the most brutal of people..kidapping to increase their clan, eating anyone else, pain gives them strengh, and when they attack they never stop advancing. The would make a Zulu Warrior proud. Let sic them all on San Francisco.