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The Woman (2011)
DVD Released: 1/24/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/1/2012
Just like people, movies have jobs to do. Whether it be to entertain us or educate us, movies have a goal and, in theory, do what they can to achieve it. These days, the most which we can hope for is for the film to come somewhat close to doing what it’s set out to do, although a small handful do fulfill their destiny. But, what about that rare movie which goes too far? These movies achieve their goal with a vengeance and become polarizing in the process. If The Woman’s goal was to be shocking and push boundaries, it certainly met those goals...and then some.
The Woman opens with small-town lawyer Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) on a hunting trip, where he spots a dirty and feral-looking woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) in the forest. He returns to his family -- wife Belle (Angela Bettis), son Brian (Zach Rand), and daughters Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) and Darlin (Shyla Molhusen) -- but doesn’t say a word about the woman to them. Soon after, Chris returns to the woods and captures the woman. He brings her home and chains her up in the root cellar. Chris immediately shows Peggy and the kids his captive, and informs them that he plans to civilize the savage. Belle is disturbed by this, but she so lives in fear of Chris that she goes along with it. Meanwhile, Chris goes about this daily life as if nothing is different. As the days go by, Chris continues to torture the woman, and this effects everyone in the family differently. Of course, any secret like this can’t stay hidden forever and the results will be devastating.
The Woman is a film with an odd lineage. It’s the sequel to a 2009 film entitled Offspring, which came from the same production company, but was distributed by a different studio. Both films are based on novels by Jack Ketchum, from a series which originated in 1980. I’ve never read any of the books and I haven’t seen Offspring. The Woman was directed by Lucky McKee who is perhaps best known for his 2002 film May, which was a disturbing look at an identity crisis. (He's less known for the 2006 film, The Woods, which was shelved for some time.) But, even with this knowledge, I was totally unprepared for what The Woman has to offer.
To say that this film is brutal would be an understatement. It is unflinching in depicting how Chris treats not only the woman, but his family as well. All of the chaining, slapping, and abusing is shown in a very matter-of-fact way. But, it's not just the physical abuse that we see We watch this man mentally abuse those around him as well, seeing how this eats away at everyone. The final act becomes quite gruesome and gory, making the earlier sequences seem quite tame by comparison.
However, underneath all of this brutality is an interesting morality play. Chris has a good job as a small-town real estate lawyer, and is apparently successful. He comes across as calm and well-mannered. Yet, from the outset, where we see him being condescending at a cookout, we get the sense that he is a sociopath. As the film continues, we see how he dominates and abuses all of the females around him, from his secretary to those in his family. We also see how he treats his son differently from everyone else. This is coupled with his complete disconnect from reality. In his mind, "taming" this woman from the woods is a perfectly normal and moral thing to do. Chris never shows any signs of remorse, and rarely raises his voice. Sean Bridgers performance is very reminiscent of that of Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather. (Interestingly, there is never any mention of Chris' religious or political affiliations.) As noted above, we also see how the cycle of abuse effects the family. Brian shows clear signs of picking up his father's abusive habits and Peggy is a loner who attempts to maintain an androgynous appearance.
So, as stated at the outset, if The Woman wanted to be shocking and controversial, it works. However, the movie is simply too bleak for its own good. Many will be turned off by the violent and deranged nature of the film. Those who can make it through that will have to contend with watching so many mentally ill and corrupt characters going through their day. In May, McKee proved that he knows how to make a disturbing movie, but here, that idea is taken to the extreme. Is that a bad thing? Well, it certainly can be when the audience feels as if they are being pummeled the whole time. There is no levity or bright spots in this movie. It doesn't take long for things to get dark and they just get more hopeless as things go on, leaving us convinced that no one will survive this movie. Clearly, The Woman is trying to make a point about misogyny and male domination, but it gets lost in the grue. Those with strong stomachs may be able to make it through the film and appreciate its message, but many will find it repugnant. The Woman is strong stuff -- perhaps too strong.
The Woman goes against the trend of putting wispy acoustic music in every independent film on DVD courtesy of Vivendi Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and showing no defects from the source material. McKee has chosen to shoot much of the film in daylight, thus we get a fairly crisp picture where the colors look fine. The cellar scenes are never overly dark. There is some mild artifacting here and when compared to Blu-ray Disc, the image does look somewhat flat. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is pretty lively track, as we get nice stereo and surround effects throughout, most notably those which illustrate events occurring off-screen. The music sounds very good, and the finale offers some opportunities for the subwoofer to get involved.
The Woman DVD contains a few extras. "The Making of The Woman" (25 minutes) takes us on-set to see the film being made. Director Lucky McKee walks us through several steps of the process, getting very specific at times. Cast members talk about their characters and the themes in the film and author Jack Ketchum comments on the writing. We get to see the application of the makeup to "the woman" which makes her look so dirty, plus a very long look at the creation and implementation of the gore effects. The sound design and music are also discussed. The piece ends with footage of the movie being show at Sundance, including a man who was offended by the movie. The DVD contains four DELETED SCENES which run about six minutes. Of the two longer scenes, one potentially gives away the big surprise during the climax and the other delves into why Peg’s teacher is so concerned about her. “Mi Burro” is a 7-minute animated film by McKee which is...just weird. The final extra is an audio only track for the song “Distracted” by Sean Spillane, which is accompanied by stills from the film.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long