Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship with The Woman

Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN

“That is not civilized behavior!”

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_tag_theSkinnyWhen a country lawyer finds a near-feral woman in the woods of his property, he gets an idea.  He’ll capture and culture her.  With the assistance of his family, he’ll “save” her from her wild ways and bring her to civilization.  What could possibly go wrong?

The Woman is the 2011 follow-up to Offspring and is directed by Lucky McKee.  Starring Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman, Angela Bettis as Belle, Sean Bridgers as Chris, Lauren Ashley Carter as Peggy, and Zach Rand as Brian.

Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN

Rarely does a film come along that both excites and terrifies me.  The Woman is a film that’s been called a must-see horror masterpiece and I agree, but my praise comes with a warning.

The Woman is a deeply disturbing work whose content will not be readily forgotten.  Years after seeing the film for the first time, I find myself subconsciously thinking about its visual imagery and motifs.  When watching the film again recently in order to write this commentary, I had to repeatedly stop the film and walk away in order to regain my composure.

The Woman has that kind of affect on me.

Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN

With themes of misogyny, slavery, domestic abuse, and the fight for dominance, there’s little about the film that doesn’t work to expose the very darkest parts of the human soul.  Forget for a moment that the film features graphic depictions of torture, abuse, and sexual assault.  At the heart of the film, we’re still talking about a man who thinks he has the right to supplant a woman’s existence with the one he chooses for her.  This act – in and of itself – is a kind of violation that I find incredibly distasteful.

It makes for great horror.

I’ve often said that successful horror films hinge on the human factor – empathy and sympathy must be ever-present in the development of the story and its characters.  With The Woman, not everyone in the audience is on the same page.

For some, the themes may be presented in too-heavy a hand for comfort.  Some will feel it paints all men as evil and all women as oppressed.  I’m sorry but I have to take a stand here and say those people are wrong.  It’s just a film with a scope limited to this particular man, Chris Cleek, his horrible adolescent son, Brian, and this particular set of women.  Saying this film is a depiction of all men and all women is too idiotic to address further.

I mean, come on.  It’s not called All the Men and All the Women.  It’s called The Woman.

Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN

It does raise an interesting point, though, about how “normal” people can become “evil” in a particular set of circumstances.

Even though Chris is shown to be mentally, physically, and sexually abusive to the women in his life, it’s interesting to watch how the rest of the characters begin to change following the arrival of the woman.  Especially Belle.  As the mousy, abused wife of Chris, she is almost relived to have the focus of her husband’s enmity turned elsewhere.

As for Chris’ bizarre fixation on the woman, I was disgusted (as were most of you, I’m sure) by the affect it has on his son, Brian.  In his own right, Brian’s adolescent curiosity with regard to the woman is upsetting and deeply disturbing.   From behind his dead shark eyes, you can almost see Brian begin to formulate ideas on how men should treat women and how women should behave in return.

Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN

That sh*t is dark and boy does it have a talent for polarizing people.  It’s true that a man got ejected from a screening of The Woman at Sundance after verbally complaining about its content.  Just do a quick search on the internet and you’ll see magnificently varied audiences reactions from “it’s perverse” to “it’s a freakin’ masterpiece!”

Performances by Angela Bettis and Pollyanna McIntosh fantastically bookend an otherwise utterly grim tale.  Sean Bridgers is largely forgettable in the role of Chris Cleek and not because the character is so vile you’ll “block him” from your memory of the film.  I have this feeling that Bridgers could have been replaced with someone older, maybe a little grittier to better affect.  His age and boyishly curly hair create a near comical air of youthful maliciousness – one born out of curiosity rather than sheer sadism and malevolence, which would have been far grislier and horrifying.

Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN

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Official site: The Woman

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Official trailer:

Jump to the End:

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3 responses to “Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship with The Woman

  1. Fantastic review! This movie really fucking hits you. You’re disturbed by everything leading up to the ending and when you find out what’s in the doghouse it’s like a kick to the gut.

    • Thanks for that! I agree. It is a film that is completely wired to eff with you. I guess “good” horror seeks to evoke strong emotions, be that terror, disgust, or shock. Regardless of its subject matter, THE WOMAN succeeds in evoking all of those emotions in this viewer. Have you seen any other Jack Ketchum written flicks?

      • I’ve seen The Girl Next Door (and also An American Crime, although that’s not based directly on his novel). I slightly preferred the second although they both depict true horror. The themes from that definitely overlap with The Woman.

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