Review by Rob Carnevale
LUCKY McKee’s The Woman is yet another of those movies that tantalises horror hounds with advance word that suggests hardened critics had trouble stomaching it and poster quotes that declare it will ‘shock you to the core’.
What’s more, it also suggests that apart from all the blood-letting, it’ll make you think as well as wince by virtue of its disturbing, yet intelligent depiction of a middle American family as they attempt to integrate a feral woman into society before then systematically abusing her.
To be fair, there is more intelligence here than in a lot of torture porn derivatives, thanks to a slow-burning approach to the horror and some better-than-average acting from a strong cast.
But the last act turn into excessive gore, while certain to delight the hard-core horror fraternity, arguably showcases where the film’s true intentions lie: to shock and garner notoriety. And for that reason it is difficult to recommend, let alone condone.
The story picks up as outwardly respectable lawyer Chris (Sean Bridgers) finds a feral woman (played by Pollyanna McIntosh) while out hunting in the woods and promptly kidnaps her, locks her in his basement and instructs his family to help “train her, civilise her, free her from herself and her baser instincts”.
McKee’s screenplay then slowly builds the tension as the feral woman plots her escape and Chris’s family react to the new scenario in different, albeit submissive ways. His long-suffering wife (Angela Bettis) wants to put a stop to it but is usually dissuaded from any form of protest by physical violence, while his eldest daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) lives in terror of her dad and is trying to conceal a pregnancy.
His son Brian (Zach Rand), however, is fast learning about his own sexuality, and encouraged by his dad begins to develop the same sadistic tendencies as his father… first watching as Chris abuses the woman sexually and then dishing out some abuse himself.
McKee’s film is at its best when examining the slow implosion of this family, thereby allowing Bridgers to build a genuinely horrific everyman monster whose outward appearance masks a truly grotesque form of humanity.
Bettis is good, too, as his terrified wife, as is Carter, as the similarly put-upon daughter… while McIntosh conveys her anguish and feral instincts through looks and growls and is suitably frightening in her own right. You sense throughout that she’ll have her revenge for the evils being visited upon her.
When that comes, however, the film slides into shock and shlock territory, undermining much of the thoughtful work that had come before and placing the violent retribution into sharp focus (whereas, thankfully, the scenes of abuse largely occur off-camera).
It’s then that The Woman struggles to differentiate itself from countless other straight-to-DVD nasties or fleeting cinematic shockers that have come before it, rendering viewers aghast at what unfolds or cheering the family’s comeuppance.
Yes, you’ll need a strong stomach for some of what unfolds and, admittedly, McKee avoids playing to convention by only having the guilty die… but his decision to ‘go for broke’ and garner the type of poster quotes he has since attracted also places a question mark over the intent of the material that has come before it.
As a result, the whole film has a whiff of the distasteful hanging over it from which it is unable to recover. The end result is a disturbing, unsettling and downright difficult to watch mix of psychological horror and gut-wrenching gore that really only offers any appeal to fans of the latter category.
Running time: 98mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: October 17, 2011