Directed by Lucky McKee, and adapted by McKee and Jack Ketchum from their novel of the same name, The Woman begins with a primal look at a woman living in the woods… and, really, that primal, animalistic vibe stays throughout the movie. Except the vibe quickly switches to a family who could be your very own neighbours. Or kids who could be in your school. Or a colleague, or a friend perhaps…
The family in question here are the Cleeks – dad Chris, mother Belle and their three kids, the eldest Peggy, the middle boy Brian and young Darlin. When Chris captures and kidnaps said woman living in the woods while out hunting one day, the family’s questionable morals are brought to the fore and their dark secrets begin to unravel in devastating circumstances. Blanketing this kidnap as a kind act to climatise the woman to so-called civilised society, Chris has very obviously dark intentions.
Sean Bridgers plays Chris with devilish charm – he’s the friendly local lawyer who’s bright smile fades when he’s in the room alone. This central performance really helps to heap on what is very uncomfortable viewing. Uncomfortable because of what we see on the screen (people are subjected to some horrific acts in this movie), but also uncomfortable because the Cleek family just seem so normal.
Even when things are unraveling and Chris sprouts a profane misogynistic speech, it’s stuff I’m sure we’ve all heard before in some form or another (granted that doesn’t then turn into horrific mutilations but it hits home nevertheless). The main shame is that this misogyny is apparent in all the men in the film (we also see a young group of boys bullying a little girl) and even the son follows suit, culminating in a particularly gruesome scene involving a pair of pliers.
For all of its gore, McKee directs The Woman with wonderful restraint, revealing the inner secrets and desires slowly – an odd glance here, a questionable act there. However, we’re never really in any suspense on motivations, and when some inevitable events take place it’s not met with any surprise.
This restraint is mirrored by actress Pollyanna McIntosh’s performance of the titular woman. Like the wolves she attacks at the start of the film, she is a hunter, slowly taking her time to lure her prey and lull them into a sense of authority before exploding in astounding violence, growling deep like the wild beast she is. Even though she is a captive, you are never in any doubt of her power.
The film, too, holds power over the viewer, luring you in with understated acts before a potent final act that leaves you breathless, curious and appalled.
The Woman is out on Blu-ray now from Arrow Video.