Fainting and vomiting at festival screenings can be seen as a hearty endorsement of the latest extreme horror movie. Of course little credence is given to the idea of a keyed-up festival atmosphere exacerbating the effects of a horror movie, nor is there much examination of the effects of binge drinking on horror movie audiences. So when Lucky McKee's latest, the Jack Ketchum written The Woman caused a big ruckus at the Sundance Film Festival, horror aficionados got their BVDs in a bunch for two reasons. They wanted to know if the movie was extreme as all that, or if such hysterical reactions were part of an ill-planned publicity stunt.
The verdict, according to me, your ultimate arbiter, is this: pretty much everyone misread this movie. Extreme and willful though it is, The Woman is no misogynistic evil, it's a blunt and badass horror thrill-ride with equal parts brain and brawn. Co-writer McKee and Ketchum salt this tale with plenty of markers letting you know you shouldn't take it too seriously, not the least of which is the notion of finding an adult, almost completely feral woman living undiscovered in rural woods. The Woman, raised by wolves, has still managed to cobble together a fetching leather outfit, and equip herself with knives, yet she's untamed enough to inspire a freakish family man into trapping her and attempting to teach her the ways of humankind by sexually torturing her. Plus, he forces his family to join in.
That description alone is likely enough to incite your grandmother to riot, but outrageously incendiary subject matter alone isn't enough to dissuade you from the fact that The Woman is first and foremost meant as an entertainment. What I'm trying to say is that all-a y'all need to chill - The Woman is neither a cheat, nor an affront; it's a freaking Jack Ketchum/Lucky McKee horror movie, and a damn good one. Before I get to whatever it is we reviewers do, I submit this last bit of exculpatory evidence: When freako father Chris (a disturbingly cocky Sean Bridgers) discovers The Woman bathing in the woods, his lusty appraisal is accompanied by a bump-n-grind rock song. Take that, Bergman!
Sharp-eyed viewers and Ketchum fanatics will note that The Woman comes from Ketchum's world of inbred cannibals living in the forests of the Northeastern seaboard, taken from the author's series of pulpy novels. Formidable actress Pollyanna McIntosh carries over from the earlier, far less successful Ketchum cannibal movie The Offspring, playing a much similar - if not the same - character. Yet The Woman stands on its own, and is in fact more worthwhile when removed from any form of Ketchum cannibal mythos. McIntosh is a towering reason why it's so much fun. Her masterful performance as a feral beast still dimly connected to her feminine wiles pretty much defines 'fierce', which is saying something, considering she's shackled in a barn for pretty much the entire movie.
So basically, Chris Cleek (greasily cocky Sean Bridgers) discovers the Woman bathing in a creek, takes her home, chains her up in the barn and enlists his family in a little good-old torture-based taming of the shrew. Mrs. Cleek (Angela Bettis) and the kids (including actress Lauren Ashley Carter) never quite warm up to the idea, but are no mere tools for Chris. Their complicated lives, both interior and out in the world, sketch out believable, interesting characters. When they're forced to participate in a little sexual torture, it feels almost real. But luckily, it doesn't feel real, either - or else the movie might actually generate the sort of trumped-up, hysterical reactions to be found posted on Youtube. By the hideously graphic, over-the-top finale, it's clear The Woman isn't meant to be taken seriously. It skates right up to the edge of total outrage, which I'm sure you're all psyched about, but keeps it fun. Makes you wonder if that Sundance style press doesn't sometimes backfire, taking what should have been perceived as a Machete-styled romp and turning it into what was seen as a failed, too-serious, torture porn entry.