The Woman isn’t the first time that director Lucky McKee (May) and novelist Jack Ketchum have worked together. They also joined forces for a film adaptation of Ketchum’s Red back in 2008, a novel about an old man seeking justice against the teens who killed his dog, which resulted in one of the more underappreciated revenge thrillers of the past 10 years. It’s an inspired collaboration; they are both artists who depict vivid, personal violence through a haze of emotional detachment. (Although McKee is solely credited with writing The Woman’s screenplay, the upcoming novel is credited to them both.)
In The Woman, lawyer Chris Cleek stumbles upon a half-naked feral woman while hunting in the woods. When he instructs his family to clean out the cellar, they calmly oblige. When he captures the wild woman and cables her wrists and ankles to the cellar wall, the family watches without argument. When Chris states the new secret family project is to “train“ and “civilize” this wild woman, the family goes along with his plan. The family dynamic grows even more eerie from there.
Pollyanna McIntosh is crazy good in the role of “the woman“, a cannibalistic monster that longs to get revenge against her captors. Snarling and snapping and smeared with mud, she’s scary enough to give you nightmares. But as the film progresses, the true evil makes itself clear. Family man Chris Gleek has something sinister churning beneath his usually tranquil surface. Although his methods of “training” the woman are progressively cruel and inhumane, his wife and daughters stand by complacently, and when Chris’ young son begins to emulate his tactics, he doesn’t discourage him (“Boys will be boys“). As a metaphor for the enduring legacy of domestic abuse, it’s obvious yet effective.
But The Woman works just as well (if not better) as a straight-up horror flick. Kevin Smith should take notes on how to effectively bury a message inside a horror movie that remains freaky and gruesome enough to please genre fans. McKee has come up with some very scary shit here. As tensions within the family intensify, so does the level of onscreen cruelty, both physical and emotional. A final confrontation is inevitable, but McKee throws in a couple of bizarro developments near the end, stuff that will undoubtedly get horror fans talking. Add relatively spare yet effective makeup effects by Robert Kurtzman, and you‘ve got a future cult classic on your hands.
The Woman is reminiscent of Deadgirl and The Girl Next Door, both of which are considered pretty strong stuff, even by jaded horror lovers. Some attending the Sundance Film Festival struggled with what they perceived as rampant misogyny in The Woman, rather than viewing McKee’s film the way it was intended, as an example of what husbands and fathers should not do. Potent and disturbing, it’s the sort of movie serious, open-minded horror fans live for.