Well after a month of James Bond film reviews, and a Looper review… and a Halloween 2 review.. After a month of 25 frigging reviews, normal service is being resumed. Seriously, 25 reviews in one month is a hell of a lot for this blog. Now I can return to my usual list of random film nonsense and today I’m kicking it off with one I’ve had sat here since before I started the Bond marathon, a film by the name of The Woman. In it a woman found roaming the wild is captured and abused by a family. Fun times are back again!!! Click the link!
So as mentioned The Woman is about a woman that is captured like an animal by the father of a well off family. The father, Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers, who you may know from Deadwood) sees this woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) out in the woods bathing and being relatively animalistic. Once he has her captured and tied up in his basement he employs his family’s help in cleaning her up and generally treating her like some sort of pet. A pet he feels he can treat however he wants. His wife, Belle (Angela Bettis) helps out of fear of her husband. His son, Brian (Zach Rand) is a little psychopath in training and has taken his own interests in the woman. Only his eldest daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) appears to show any sign of sympathy but she is struggling with issues of her own and a deeper rooted fear of her father which cripples her ability to help. As the film moves along the woman gets treated like an animal, the family issues start coming to the surface and the whole thing leads to a bloody and brutal conclusion.
The first thing that struck me about The Woman was the interesting mixture of arthouse sensibilities being combined with, dare I say it, MTV pop culture. I despise that MTV culture tag but it’s one that exists. There’s a mixture of genuinely artistic methodology being employed in the film’s camera work, editing and score that is then combined with the use of music and montage to create a unique feel. In the film’s opening scenes we see The Woman out in the wilderness. The director (Lucky McKee) makes sure she is who you understand first by showing her stalking some prey, going back to her cave dwellings and then having a dream. There’s a use of long slow takes mixed with dissolved edits to create a mixture of feral and dream like elements. The sequence is quite striking. The dissolve edits crop up again at various other points in the film to signify the passage of time in a similar manner to the shot of Travis Bickle walking down a New York street in Taxi Driver. But along with that, whether Lucky realised it or not, the shots and edits recall some of the direction style of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. I doubt it was on purpose but I’d be interested to find out if Lucky is familiar with the Thai director’s work. It shows a measured, patient style that’s really missing from a lot of modern western cinema. I know nothing about the work of Lucky McKee but his direction in this film has me quite interested.
Performances in The Woman are largely quite strong. The cast may be dropping into fairly well established roles, with the exception of The Woman herself, but they’re making sure their performances do not resort to merely being carbon copies of other performances. Sean Bridgers in particular manages to get across with only words and his stance that he has some sort of abusive control over his wife in his very first scene. Their fear of him is played out in a manner in which you can almost feel their nervous heartbeats for yourself as they dare to speak for fear that whatever they say could have violent repercussions. The script is written in such a way that it actually manages to keep the full extent of Chris Cleek’s evil hidden until the very end of the film. You know it’s there the whole time, after all he has a woman locked in his cellar, but just what extent he uses fear to control his family is always kept at bay. There’s even hints at a few more atrocities existing within the family that are left open for interpretation, specifically with the mental and physical state of Peggy. The only real weak link in the acting talent here is Peggy’s schoolteacher Genevieve Raton (Carlee Baker). You know the quality of acting you expect in those scenes between the sex in porn? That’s her that is. Pretty though. Pollyanna McIntosh is the star of the film. She plays The Woman with such an animal like way that when she does try to form words you could believe she’s never tried speaking before. Ironically her broken words come across as more real sounding than anything Carlee Baker says.
The film wrestles with the ideas and themes of female family roles, alpha male power, and fear. There isn’t much in the way of subtlety in how Lucky McKee handles the film’s themes but this is at least a work that confronts dark subjects full on. Chris Cleek clearly believes he owns everything around him and can do what he likes with it. No surprise that his job involves a certain amount of power within the community. His son is learning from him and as an adolescent boy he’s eager to please his father and has had his morals severely twisted as a result of his role as Daddy’s favourite child. He sees The Woman as something for him to toy with as he pleases. The film stops short of showing him actually abusing her, using a fair bit of clever editing and implied horrors to convey what he has done to her, but it’s more than enough to get across just how evil he is. Peggy spends most of the film feeling sorry for herself and hiding away as much as she can. She is maybe seen moping around a little too much. I would have preferred the film to maybe be about a family that is brought to it’s broken state by proxy of their abuse of the captured woman rather than them already being in this state but the story told is enough to have an effect.
In the end The Woman is a well directed film with generally strong performances and actual real life thematic elements. There’s probably one to many musical moments used to hammer in a certain mood but generally the film maintains a level of tonal quality that’s often poorly managed in the quest for cheap laughs. The film can feel a little nihilistic at points but it never drops to the point of out and out torture for the sake of visual porn. Despite earning it’s 18 certificate here in the UK in it’s stride the film isn’t actually as brutal as you’d probably expect it to be. Well, all except the final scenes which include some copious amounts of blood, and maybe even a reference to Wayne’s World. Well, probably not a reference but I was thinking it. I honestly recommend this dark, twisted and uniquely directed film. It’s by no means perfect, in fact it’s very rough in places, but this is a film made by a director who’s beginning to find his voice. Hopefully the strength of The Woman earns him a chance to make something a few more people will get to see.