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Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.
There are times as a critic were you will encounter a film, which makes you stop and say “I really have no idea, how the hell I’m going to review this” and much as was the case with “Martyrs” once again I'm presented with exactly the same situation, so this is going to be real interesting to see how this works out....so here goes nothing.
Lucky Mckee is probably the most indie of the new generation of horror directors, having first burst onto the horror scene with “May” (2002), he has continued to maintain his indie roots while continually proving to be one of the most exciting new horror directors currently on the modern horror scene, a reputation which he further cements with this film, which could also be his most controversial to date as he once again teams up with horror writer Jack Ketchum for his second adaptation of Ketchum's work after previously directing “Red” (2008).
While “The Woman” is the sequel to Ketchum's “The Offspring” it is not essential to have read that book or even seen the film version, to get into this film as it is still very much a standalone movie, country lawyer and supposed family man Chris (Sean Bridgers) capture a primal woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) he finds in the woods during a hunting expedition, whom he proceeds to chain in his cellar while making plans to “civilise” her, not realizing the effect she will have on his family, who are already a fractured unit to say the least with his wife Belle (Angela Bettis) suffering from his casual abuse, while he seems to be molding a monster in his own image with his son Brian (Zach Rand), meanwhile his eldest daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) lives in constant fear of her father, with the only one untouched by Chris’s influence seemingly being his youngest daughter Darlin’ (Shyla Molhusen), while this family clearly is a powder keg waiting to explode and the woman could be the spark to do just that.
Since its premier at Sundance “The Woman”, where a man in the audience walked out complaining about the violence and misogyny featured (as shown in a much discussed YouTube clip), it has essentially has been a hot bed of controversy since then, with Director Mckee throwing into this potent mixture torture, nudity, rape and visceral gore, but surprisingly the most shocking thing on here is the casual abuse which Chris is happy to hand out to his family, to maintain his position as the head of the household. When all these factors are combined, this is far from an easy movie to watch, yet Mckee still manages to keep a vice like grip on your attention, slowly twisting the tension as he builds up to the inevitable meltdown.
The cast are all pretty much faultless with Mckee’s once again casting his long term partner in crime Angela Bettis once more and whom has appeared in all his film since, playing the titular “May” in his debut feature she has proven more than capable of adapting herself to the various roles Mckee has written for her in the past and here she perfectly embodies the character of Belle, who has now been reduced to a timid shell of a person, to the point where she unquestionably follows her husband’s plans to civilize the woman, without Chris bothering to properly explain his intentions, while being certainly even less willing to stop him tearing the family apart. Bridgers is equally fantastic as Chris, easily switching between his dominating side he reserves for his family and the southern gentleman face he projects to the public on his day to day life, while only truly revealing the true depth of his evil at the climax which like his third side comes seemingly out of nowhere. Still he is very much in the mind of the end justifying his means, as he regularly beats the woman when she disobeys his commands, while not even thinking twice to use a power hose to clean the dirt of her body.
With such controversial material on display, I had to question how much the younger cast members were aware of the content of the film? Still both Carter and Rand handle their roles wells with Carter certainly being one to watch, with her portrayal of Peggy proving to be especially memorable, as she takes the audience with her on an emotional journey, as she struggles to handle the chaos around her, let alone the fact her parents are keeping a feral woman in the cellar. Yet at the same time you feel that she longs to feel the same acceptance that her father shows to her brother, frequently emasculating her appearance by cutting her hair short and wearing baggy clothes, seemingly to disguise her femininity ideas sadly not explored further, much like a last minute pregnancy accusation which comes out of nowhere, yet to which Mckee seems especially keen to nail down, even when the audience is doubting it’s plausibility, let alone that it is used as the breaking point for the family.
Rand on the other hand is more of the curious teenager and monster in the making, as his father bullies him constantly to mold him in his image, while when left to his own devices even starts imitating his father’s actions with the woman, quickly changing from the naive teenager into something a lot more dark and sinister whenever he is near the woman.
McIntosh is truly believable as the titular woman, whose statuesque figure embodies this Amazonian like character, whose very nature is deeply rooted in our most primal instincts as she lives only to further her own survival, happily chewing off Chris’s probing finger without seemingly the slightest bit faze by the violence of her acts, while communicating only in the most basic of grunts and howls. Even though she seems to understand what is happening around her, the woman remains true to her primal instincts throughout, as especially shown during the bloody climax were she truly shows what she is capable of, as she sets about extracting her own brand of revenge on her captives.
Despite several moments of extreme gore, outside of Chris losing a finger, Mckee has make the bold decision to keep the gore for his shocking finale were he delivers in spades and truly ensures that the film gets a bloody send off, while seemingly being more happy to torture the audiences psyche until then, through scenes of Chris’s torments let alone a rape sequence which is handled in a thankfully non gratuitous manor and serves solely as a representation of the decline in morals that the woman brings out in the men in the family, as Mckee once again demonstrates a keen intellect behind his desire to shock.
While it might be easy to get caught up in the sexual politics which Mckee continually plays around with throughout to varying degrees of success, it is essentially best to leave these points open to personal interpretation, while for myself I found it to be a film which worked best when looked on as a grim portrait of picket fence hell, while proving once more that hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned.