18 – 101mins – 2011
Screenplay by: Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee
Based on the novel by: Jack Ketchum
Directed by: Lucky McKee
Starring: Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis, Lauren Ashley Carter, Zach Rand, Shyla Molhusen, Carlee Baker
WILD AT HEART
I don’t shy away from horror; I’ve seen a lot of sick and twisted films in my time. Most no longer bother me. But every now and again a film comes along that even jaded ole’ me is taken aback by. I can still remember my revulsion at chav-killer thriller Eden Lake ; appalled at how this kind of inhumanity actually could/does take place in our supposedly civilised twenty-first century society. Controversial kidnap flick The Woman left me with the same feeling of nausea; revilement.
Small town lawyer and father of three, Chris Cleek (Bridgers – think a thinner Will Ferrell), is out hunting in the woods at the back of his isolated country house when he spots a wild, feral woman (McIntosh) living rough. Whereas most peoples first thought would be either: (a). Run!!! Or (b). Call the authorities, Chris Cleek hits upon the, umm, novel idea of capturing the savage, chaining her up in his family’s cellar and going to great lengths to “civilise” her.
Within moments of awakening confused and shackled in a strange place, the instinctive hunter defends herself in the only way she knows how by biting off one of Chris’ fingers; surely an omen that this little venture is destined to fail? But, undeterred, the nine-fingered patriarch introduces the reluctant guest to the rest of his family, whom he hopes to bring on board this less-than-legal project.
Wife Belle (Bettis) is unwilling, but too fragile and meek to stand up to her bullying husband; oldest daughter Peg (Carter) is also dead against it, but the teen is preoccupied by worries of her own; youngest daughter Darling (Molhusen) is too young to know better; whilst middle kid Brian (Rand) is as worryingly enthusiastic as his father.
As disturbing as the torture scenes are (for, let’s face it, no matter how you dress up the family’s course in “refinement”, that’s what it is), it was the supposedly happy Cleek family who left me more unsettled. Even before hitting on his maaaad idea, Chris comes across as a smug, unlikeable jerk. His wife desperately needs a backbone, and it’s no surprise to find that Chris all too often lashes out to suppress the merest suggestion of insurgence from his ever-loyal bride. Brian appears to be like any normal kid his age, but he has a deviant streak – watching unmoved as a group of boys bully a little girl, getting revenge on a friend after losing in a basketball game – his father has clearly had a less than positive effect.
But it is Peg’s problems that leave you most alarmed. There is clearly more to her sudden personality transplant than an emo phase; but the delicately hinted truth behind her introverted nature, frequent trips to the loo and emotional sensitivity is truly troubling; even worse is the fact that Belle seems to have an inkling but is too afraid to speak up. What happens when Peg’s teacher (Baker) makes a house call to discuss her concern for her student’s health is when the situation swiftly deteriorates into a living hell.
Undoubtedly an effective horror picture (and devastating statement on the darkness and injustice prevalent behind closed doors), The Woman is far from an enjoyable viewing experience. Chris Cleek is just a monster and far more grotesque than the snarling, dirt-encrusted primitive he has chained up for his own twisted amusement. I felt genuinely uncomfortable whenever he was on screen, knowing that an erratic fiend lay beneath the smiling exterior of a content family man.
From the director of similarly warped cult horror May, The Woman isn’t a faultlessly perfect film (the final shot and the character’s logic behind their decision is crazy-weird, there’s a from-nowhere twist in the dog pen and the appearance of a baby during the eponymous character’s introduction is a plot strand which is immediately dropped and never returned to), but it is a film which leaves a lasting impression, and for that it must be applauded; job done.
In a CR@B Shell: If I were to judge Lucky McKee’s The Woman on shock-factor alone, than it’d definitely get at least four out of five, but it’s predilection for domestic drama brings an implausible shocker into disquieting probability, and that leads to an excruciating watch which I don’t think I could put myself through again.