Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) is a small town lawyer living a quiet, seemingly normal life in the heart of Maine with his family. That is, until he discovers a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) roaming the woods, the last remaining member of a violent clan that has roamed the Northeast coast for decades. He captures her and chains her in the cellar and makes it the family's project to civilize her. His wife Belle (Angela Bettis) is a reluctant accomplice at first, while his daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) is withdrawing into herself. As his methods become ever more extreme, his unhinged, sadistic and misogynistic impulses multiply, encouraging his son Brian (Zach Rand) to follow his example.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Continuing in the grand tradition of finding horror in the mundane and monsters within the most outwardly serene characters, The Woman accelerates gradually towards its gory showdown, building suspense and dread. Sean Bridgers is convincing as Chris Cleek, the family man and small town official whose secret is too dark to ever show its face in public. He has a short history, we gather, of demented behaviour, but when he discovers a wounded feral female in the woods, his appetite for domination and cruelty is unleashed.
At first, he tries to hide his misogyny under the cloak of civilising the creature, which he begins by chaining her outstretched arms and ankles in the cellar - with difficulty; she is ferocious and she bites. He must have a scintilla of humanity for he bandages her wound, although we never see how he manages that given her violent response to his presence.
He includes the whole (taken aback) family in the process, which slowly corrupts his son Brian (Zach Rand) an easily corruptible kid with character flaws the size of his father's. The film portrays the growing violence that is unleashed by Cleek the creep, as he grows increasingly unhinged, the violence engulfing his wife and Miss Hindle (Lauren Petre) a hapless teacher from the school who has concerns about Peggy Cleek.
Like father like son, Brian sneeks into the cellar one day and molests the chained woman - what we see is a pair of pliers and some blood. But inexplicably, his shocked mother reports that it was sexual. This is careless, and taken with the inexplicable bandaging, lessens our confidence and trust in the filmmakers.
It's a controversial work not only because of the gory, vicious nature of the violence, but because it portrays such a callous and amoral father, who openly encourages his son to follow his evil example. While Cleek is clearly deranged, we are confronted by the fact that he is a pillar of society and in his daily life he would be acclaimed as a typical, caring family man. Contrary to what some at its Sundance screening thought, he's the misogynist, not the filmmakers.
Excellent performances (Polyanna McIntosh is notable as the woman) and filmmaking technicals notwithstanding, it's difficult to see the redeeming features of the film, although there is a redemptive element in the ending which suggests that the woman has been civilised in a sense. This is a marginal payoff for such high intensity, confronting input.
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WOMAN, THE (R)
CAST: Sean Bridgers, Pollyanna McIntosh, Angela Bettis, Lauren Ashley Carter, Shyla Molhusen, Zach Rand
PRODUCER: Robert Tonino, Lucky McKee
DIRECTOR: Lucky McKee
SCRIPT: Lucky McKee (novel by Jack Ketchum)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alex Vendler
EDITOR: Zach Passero
MUSIC: Sean Spillane
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Krista Gall
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Monster Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 18, 2011