Retro Review: THE WOMAN (2011){0}

Most horror films offer normalcy that is invaded by something truly scary – or at least that’s how the formula works most often. But leave it to an astute genre guy like Lucky McKee (May, The Woods) to deviate from even the most basic of established genre formula and deliver a ferociously strange new horror film. This flick doesn’t attack normalcy with terror; it introduces one style of horror into a film that already has a second horror film on the back burner. The Woman is, more or less, two horror flicks in one, and they’re both pretty damn cool.

Family patriarch Chris Cleek seems like a pretty cool dad: he’s got a successful law practice, an adoring wife, and several children who actually treat their papa with a modicum of respect. But the sheltered and isolated (and, fine, slightly weird) family is about to welcome a new guest into their … barn. She’s a feral, filthy, and altogether wild woman that Chris tracked down while hunting!  But why would a man want to “keep” such a woman? What are Chris’ true intentions? And why is his family so quietly willing to accept Dad’s consistently odd behavior?

These are not questions that a basic, “one-note” horror flick would ask. Most films of this ilk would simply offer a house full of victims, an insane killer outside, and a bunch of murders that happen like clockwork. McKee (and his collaborator, novelist Jack Ketchum) seem intent on subverting the basic horror fare by placing “the woman” in more danger than she causes. From one angle, The Woman is “about” the inability to destroy the human spirit (especially a female’s), but it’s also “about” the ways in which a natural wildness is a lot less horrifying than is a vision of domestic normalcy with something truly foul just beneath the surface.

Sort of a semi-sequel to 2009’s Offspring (also based on a Ketchum book), The Woman eschews formula at every opportunity. We know that the woman (played powerfully raw by Pollyana McIntosh) is going to have her moment(s) of vengeance eventually, and that affords the flick some juicy suspense – but much of the film’s dark appeal comes in watching this family unit fall apart, because we know there are some giant skeletons in their closets just waiting to fall out and scare us. Had this wild woman descended upon an innocent family, we’d probably have a very basic but enjoyable horror tale, but McKee and Ketchum are, to their credit, a lot more interested in offering a potentially horrific villain who’ll destroy a bunch of screaming innocents.

The Woman finds it much more interesting if the “horror” is an innocent, and the “normal folks” are indisputably twisted. It’s that subversion of the basic horror template that makes The Woman so interesting – but it’s the quiet confidence of McKee and Ketchum (and a pair of excellently weird performances from Sean Bridgers and Angela Bettis) that take the experiment to the next level. Frankly, a horror flick like this one could come from the indie side of the equation, not just for its casually shocking moments of darkness, but also for the way it quite simply messes with what an audience expects.

Plus Act III is kind of an ass-kicker.


Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)

THE WOMAN is now available to stream or download exclusively here (UK only), and as a region-free Special Edition Blu-ray steelbook, featuring brand new commentaries by director Lucky McKee and critic Scott Weinberg.