'The Woman': a sick, twisted, exploitative turn
A movie review of "The Woman," a sick, twisted affront to human decency. Director Lucky McKee's deliberately extreme exercise in exploitation involves a seemingly normal attorney's misguided attempt to "civilize" a feral woman held captive in the cellar of his rural family home.
Special to The Seattle Times
'The Woman,' with Sean Bridgers, Pollyanna McIntosh, Angela Bettis, Lauren Ashley Carter, Zach Rand. Directed by Lucky McKee, from a screenplay by Jack Ketchum and McKee, based on their novel. 101 minutes. Rated R for strong bloody violence, torture, a rape, disturbing behavior, some graphic nudity and language. Pacific Place, Southcenter 16.
Your choice to see or avoid "The Woman" is best determined by this statement from director Lucky McKee:
" 'The Woman' is designed to incite fear, shock, nervousness, dismay, anxiety and disgust. It is designed to make you question what it is to be civilized, what it is to be feral, and all shades of gray in between. It will make you jump ... and squirm ... it might even induce nausea. It will make you question my intentions in making it as well as your own desire to watch it."
To McKee's credit, that's an honest appraisal of his film, an exercise in gut-wrenching exploitation in which the apparently lone survivor of a violent, feral clan (the titular unnamed woman, ferociously played by Pollyanna McIntosh) is captured in the northeast woods by a seemingly normal attorney (Sean Bridgers). He intends to "civilize" his snarling, sexually fecund captive with the help of his seemingly normal rural family, including his numb-from-abuse wife (Angela Bettis, star of McKee's breakout film "May") and their deeply troubled teenagers (Lauren Ashley Carter, Zach Rand). Predictably, tables get turned and all notions of civility are called into question.
With his statement, McKee knowingly ups the ante on horror history: The 1931 classic "Frankenstein" is prefaced by a similar example of warning-as-provocation, and like Hitchcock's mischievous trailers for "Psycho," McKee follows a time-honored tradition of dare-you-to-watch salesmanship. He wants to lure you into his movie lair and bludgeon you into submission.
More sick than scary and more visceral than logical, "The Woman" horrifies with relentless, reprehensible impact. But in his ongoing collaboration with novelist Jack Ketchum, McKee's extremity is undeniably effective: He elicits deeply unsettling performances from his cast (Bridgers makes Norman Bates seem like a Boy Scout), and unanswered questions add to the film's queasy, off-kilter depiction of humanity unhinged.
Charges of misogyny are debatable (so is the defense that McKee is a radical feminist), and with a pummeling soundtrack that qualifies as aural torture, "The Woman" is an affront to human decency that no self-respecting critic (even this tolerant horror fan) would enthusiastically endorse. But if that's the case, can anyone say that McKee has failed to deliver on his intentions?
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