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I’ve spent a lot of time watching extreme cinema, ranging from the mild to the balls-out insane. Rarely have I felt the strong urge to take a good, long, hot shower after the experience, thanks in part to my ability to consume such nonsense without moral or ethical conflict. In fact, I think I laughed my way through most of Tom Six’s “The Human Centipede”, though I did have some serious issues properly ingesting “A Serbian Film” without vomiting violently into my Cheese Nips. And while I’m not the heartless, callous, and utterly soulless individual a lot of people seem to think I am, I do pride myself when it comes to handling on-screen carnage. It’s been a very long time since I’ve experienced anything that has come close to evoking physical revulsion.
Then along comes “May” director Lucky McKee’s “The Woman”, a film that actually made me feel quite sleazy for the vast majority of its run time. It is, essentially, a sequel to “Offspring”, a movie which, despite that picture’s somewhat misguided execution, managed to the entertain the degenerate backwoods cannibal living in my dark and dingy soul. “The Woman”, however, takes its predecessor’s remaining survivor and thrusts her directly into a situation that makes you question who, precisely, the real bad guy truly is in this particular outing. Sure, the titular female may have done some exceptionally awful things in “Offspring”, but does that mean she should be chained to the wall of a self-righteous do-gooder’s cluttered cellar? Of course not. Don’t be silly.
Specifically, the film follows the questionable exploits of a smooth-talking guy by the name of Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), a slick country lawyer who doesn’t treat the women in his life the way that he should. Whenever his wife (Angela Bettis) gets out of line and speaks her mind, he’s quick to give her a good slap to knock her back in place. His daughter, who has begun exhibiting some peculiar signs at school, is even repulsed by her father’s attempts at affection. And the less said about his son’s cruel and unusual behavior, the better. Needless to say, dysfunction runs pretty deep in this family, and just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, it, of course, does. If it didn’t, we probably wouldn’t have a movie. What sort of fun would that be?
During one of Chris’ early-morning hunting expeditions, he stumbles across what appears to be a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) wandering around in the woods. Being the kind and considerate fellow that he is, Chris captures the girl and takes her back to the ol’ homestead. Instead of inviting her inside for some coffee and cake, this uncouth host wraps the woman in chains and tosses her directly into his cellar. When Chris attempts to see just how uncivilized his visitor really is, she gives him a very clear demonstration of her abilities by gnawing off his finger and spitting his gore-encrusted wedding ring onto the floor with a self-satisfied grin. So begins this country lawyer’s slow descent into madness as he tries to domesticate his new friend while convincing his family that he’s doing the right thing. Chaos, of course, eventually ensues. And how.
What keeps “The Woman” from sinking into the torture horror mire is the intelligence of Lucky McKee and author Jack Ketchum’s script. Instead of making the woman a weak-willed wimp who succumbs to the torments of her chauvinistic captor, the filmmakers have made her just as cunning as her opponent, who underestimates her at every turn. You can see in her eyes that she’s well-aware of the family’s situation, and although she attempts to make some sort of plea to the wife and the kids, they’re ultimately too frightened of the alpha male to make any independent moves. All of these subtle moments are tackled with quiet power by the film’s capable cast. Angela Bettis and Sean Bridgers do well as a couple on the brink of self-destruction, while Pollyanna McIntosh knocks her role right out of the cinematic park. This version of the woman is more defined than the one in “Offspring”; outside of the daughter, she’s easily the most sympathetic character of the bunch, which is strange, really, given how nasty she was in the precious entry. If you have any doubts about how truly messed up this family is, wait until the third act. Oh, boy.
Powered by Lucky McKee’s skilled direction, his cast’s willingness to go the extra mile, and a handful of moments that are so utterly demented that you can’t help but laugh out loud, “The Woman” is the must-see horror flick of the Halloween season. And although this may sound like pointless hyperbole to get a quote on the DVD/Blu-ray box art, I have to say that it’s easily the best horror movie I’ve seen thus far in 2011. Considering how many genre flicks I put away every month, this is really saying something. I seriously doubt you’ll find a more thought-provoking horror flick anywhere in the States, especially from a theatrical release. McKee, despite stumbling a bit here and there since “May”, has proven once again why he’s one of the strongest genre filmmakers working today. However, trust me when I say that you may need a hot shower after viewing. If not, you might want to consider getting your head checked.
Lucky McKee (director) / Lucky McKee, Jack Ketchum (screenplay)
CAST: Pollyanna McIntosh … The Woman
Carlee Baker … Genevieve Raton
Marcia Bennett … Deana
Angela Bettis … Belle Cleek
Sean Bridgers … Chris Cleek
Lauren Ashley Carter … Peggy Cleek
Zach Rand … Brian Cleek