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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.
This 16 X 9 widescreen presentation does some things well, and some things poorly. Colors are rich and evocative, while the image is clean and damage-free. The image is for the most part fairly sharp, with average detail levels, while dark areas are suitably dingy. My complaint is for what looks like pretty aggressive macro-blocking in those shadows. Bearing in mind that much of the movie occurs in a darkened barn, with the occasional burst of sunlight through the door, there is a lot of ethereal light, dust particles, and counterbalancing shadows to deal with. If those shadows weren't often filled a digital breakdown sometimes resembling a gothic version of Tetris, the whole package would seem a lot better.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio in English and Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio are both in fine form. Audio is crisp and clean, dialog easy to discern, music - while pretty rockin' - is not mixed too aggressively, and sound design is great, with McIntosh howling like a banshee and lots of neat dimensional effects to envelop you.
A 25-minute The Making Of The Woman featurette goes a long way towards making up for the lack of commentary track, with an entertaining slate of BTS goodies. Five minutes of Deleted Scenes hint at some of the film's surprises while expanding upon subplot ideas. The Short Film - "Mi Burro" is a funny, sad, weird and subversive animation, that is 'to be continued', so don't expect any closure! There is a Music Video - "Distracted" by Sean Spillane from the soundtrack. It runs five minutes over a series of Ken Burns-style shots from the movie. Wrapping things up are a few Trailers for Bloody Disgusting Selects movies, all of which look pretty good!
Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum's The Woman last year poised itself as a truly shocking horror film not meant for decent folks. Amidst stagy overreactions from festival audiences, expectations were raised to the point where the movie became vilified as a hateful, misogynistic piece of trash. Too bad the boys from marketing didn't put this out there as a truly badass wallow in button-pushing horror excess - but in a good way. Anchored by Pollyanna McIntosh's towering performance as the title character, The Woman feels like a legitimate extension of 1970s grindhouse horror; smart, sassy, and featuring the best disemboweling you'll see all year. More extras and a slightly better print would launch this one, but for you horror aficionados, it's still Highly Recommended.