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Lucky McKee's 2011 filmThe Woman, which was co-written by the late, great horror author Jack Ketchum (he of The Girl Next Door infamy introduces us to Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), a wealthy small-town lawyer who is, on the surface at least, a fine, upstanding member of his community. When he goes out hunting one day, he spies a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh), washing in a river near the cave she lives in. Clearly both aroused and intrigued by what he sees, he decides to capture her, bring her home and chain her up in the cellar of the family home with the intention of ‘civilizing her.'
His meek and put upon wife, Belle (Angela Bettis, who played the lead in McKee's excellent 2002 film May) is clearly confused, as is their teenaged daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), while their pubescent son Brian (Zach Rand), who does whatever his father asks without question, simply goes along with what his dad has to say. Their young daughter, Darlin' (Shyla Molhusen), is really too young to understand the significance of what her father has done here, and is more interested in eating cookies than much else. It isn't long before the truth about Chris' motivations come to light, not to mention the way he really treats his family behind closed doors, but the woman in the cellar is smarter and far more capable than Chris really counted on…. This won't end well.
The Woman can be a tough watch and is a film all but guaranteed to upset more sensitive viewers but it's also a clever look at the aspects of North American society that people often times don't like to talk about. It's clear early on that Chris isn't who he presents himself as, and that his moral standing is nothing more than an attempt to keep up appearances. McKee and Ketchum's writing does a very good job of establishing his dominance within the Cleek family unit, bringing the cycle of abuse full circle before the movie is over and making the case that in many cases, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in that regard. It builds to a conclusion that is more than a little over the top and that might not sit well with some viewers, as you could definitely make the argument that the twist at the end is a twist too many, but getting there is a tense experience.
The performances are strong across the board. Bridgers is very good here as the father in the film, playing the rat bastard character pretty much perfectly. We know who he is, but at the same time, when he lashes out Bridgers does so with such force that we're still taken aback by it. Bettis couldn't be a better choice to play his wife. She's meek for most of the movie, going along with her husband's bizarre idea even though it's clear she doesn't agree with it, not strong enough to stand up to him, until she is. Lauren Ashley Carter is very good as the elder daughter, able to convey very convincingly with her facial expressions just how terrified her character is. Zach Rand plays Chris' creepy offspring well and the supporting work from Shyla Molhusen is just fine. Pollyanna McIntosh, as the titular woman, has very little dialogue here and when she does speak it's in her own feral language, but she delivers a bold and intense performance and she is, at times, genuinely frightening.
Production values are strong here. McKee's use of pop music throughout the movie can be a distraction, the levels on the songs are a little high up in the mix and will certainly take some viewers out of the film, a noticeable strike against it, but the camerawork is really good. The sets are fine and the movie benefits from some impressive practical effects work.
Arrow Video debuts The Woman on Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and with the feature given 28GBs of space on the disc, remastered in 4k from the digital intermediate. This film was shot digitally so there isn't any grain or print damage to note, the image is spotless. The feature gets a healthy bit rate, showing no compression artifacts at all. Colors are reproduced very nicely here, and we get nice depth, detail and texture throughout.
The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, which comes with optional subtitles in English only, is clean, clear and easy to follow. There's plenty of strong surround activity here, mostly in the placement of the effects work and the score. Dialogue is always easy to understand and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion. An optional English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also included.
Extras start off with a new audio commentary track commentary with director Lucky McKee, editor Zach Passero, sound designer Andrew Smetek and composer Sean Spillane. This track is very thorough, covering the writing of the picture, the scoring of the film, casting the movie, editing the film, the effects work, the locations and plenty of other details. A second new commentary by star Pollyanna McIntosh is also included and, obviously, it presents the making of the film from her perspective which, as you might imagine, is quite interesting given what her character goes through in the movie. A third new commentary features film critic Scott Weinberg and it's a thoughtful and intelligent analysis of the film that does a very good job of dissecting the themes that it plays with and some of societal issues that it confronts head on. Arrow has also carried over the archival commentary with director Lucky McKee that was originally included on the DVD release.
As to the featurettes, the first of the two new pieces is Dad On The Wall, a seventy-five-minute "fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes documentary" filmed by the director's father Mike McKee while the movie was being made. It's a lot of footage to take in but it does build a really strong document of what it was like on set, McKee's creative process, what the cast and crew were put through and more. Being Peggy Cleek is a newly filmed twenty-minute interview with star Lauren Ashley Carter who talks about how she got the part, her thoughts on the character, how McKee had the score figured out before the movie and how everyone had their own song in a certain sense, what it was like on set, how she got along with her fellow performers, her thoughts on the film and more.
As far as archival stuff goes, Malam Domesticam is an archival making-of featurette that runs twenty-five-minutes and is made up of some interesting onset footage as well as some footage from the film's premiere at Sundance.Meet The Makers is an archival short featurette on the making of the film that runs seven-minutes that originally appeared on the Chiller channel. It's got some interesting behind the scenes and interview clips contained in it.
Arrow has also provided a video documenting the Frightfest Total Film Panel Discussion from 2011, which is an onstage chat about the American indie horror scene made up of a discussion from filmmakers Lucky McKee, Andrew van den Houten, Larry Fessenden, Adam Green, Joe Lynch and Ti West. Here, over the course of forty-five-minutes, the participants discuss both the challenges and the opportunities that exist for genre filmmakers who want to create product outside of the mainstream studio scene.
The disc also includes six-minutes' worth of Deleted Scenes, a seven-minute short film by editor Zach Passero entitled Mi Burro, a music video for the song Distracted by Sean Spillane, a tease and a theatrical trailer, an extensive still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
Arrow includes, in the first pressing, an insert booklet that contains cast and crew credits for the feature, an essay on the film's writer entitled ‘So You Think You Know Jack?' by Kevin Kovelant, a piece on the director entitled ‘Get Lucky' by Michael Blyth and an essay entitled ‘Cycles Of Abuse: The Woman As Family Horror Film' by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. As to the packaging, this comes with a nice slipcover that uses the same image on one side of the insert cover while the original poster artwork for the film is included on the reverse.
The Woman is a rough watch and there's no doubt that the ending is going to leave some viewers less than satisfied, but those who appreciate challenging horror pictures and don't mind the stronger content will appreciate what McKee, Ketchum and company have done here. Arrow has done an excellent job bringing this picture to Blu-ray, with a very fine presentation and on a disc loaded with extra features. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.