DVD Review: The Woman
The internet may be a boon for film fans in many ways, but it can also be a curse; try avoiding the reviews and opinions of your peers when you’re desperately trying not to form a verdict on a film you’ve yet to see and you’ll understand what I mean. The Woman (2011) was just such a movie: it was, for many folk (including Ben!), the best thing at this year’s FrightFest and they wanted to share their thoughts accordingly, on Twitter and elsewhere. So, I did go into my first viewing of this much talked-about movie with some idea of what was to follow – including the various debates about misogyny, or otherwise, being present in the film – but I was keen to see what had garnered such praise from nearly everyone I knew.
Well, The Woman is slick, well-packaged and well-shot. It boasts some decent performances, and good locations. There is a lot to like here. I can see that.
However, that’s where I part ways with the general consensus; I have no wish to be a contrarian, but allow me to throw my hat in the ring here: I found The Woman vulgar, bordering on stupid, with heavy-handed dialogue and sloppy symbolism throughout. As for the cries of ‘misogyny!’, that heavy-handed dialogue gives us an answer on that score. The fact that it’s used to pepper the movie with sexist platitudes actually demonstrates that this isn’t a misogynistic movie; what we have here is a screenplay designed to press buttons, designed to irritate, rather than any organic sense of a prevailing attitude, sexist or otherwise. Misogynistic? No. Offensive? Yes – it’s offensive to me when a film strives so cynically to be offensive. It smacks of a film made to be discussed first and enjoyed second.
Is it just me? Are other horror fans getting tired of being manipulated like this?
You probably all have an approximate idea of the plot by now, but just to outline it: family-man-with-a-dark-side Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) is out hunting one day when he spies a strange, feral-looking woman bathing in a creek. He decides to make it his project to take her home, clean her up and ‘civilise’ her, with the help of his unwitting wife Belle, his daughters and his son. This civilising influence consists of chaining her up in a fruit cellar and mistreating her – not that she can’t give as good as she gets, mind, hence this is one warped family unit which is about to implode.
There are some interesting interplays between the characters here, to be fair. Whilst Chris is too much of an all-boxes-ticked villain to really take seriously, Angela Bettis comes across as authentically fraught and repressed – developing upon that sort of nervy energy she brought to the screen in the hugely-superior May (2002). Adolescent son Brian – played by first-time movie actor Zach Rand – is far more intriguing than his pa, too, and watching him move from passive-aggressive to plain old aggressive is a highlight. As for ‘the woman’ herself, I was at least grateful that they made no attempts whatsoever to prettify her; she looks, and sounds, alarming. That said, what is she? Is she human? Even allowing for the fact that females in films can so often surpass the realms of possibility when it comes to physical strength, the woman here can do things which should be straight-up impossible. If there wasn’t that confusion, then throw in the ramifications of a certain, very short flashback (I assume) sequence towards the end of the film: you can see what I mean at 1 hour and 26 minutes in, just in case you missed it. Are you confused yet? I was. It felt tacked-on to add depth, but in so doing this disrupted the plot significantly in a film which already had issues, if you think about it at all beyond how ‘uncompromising’ it is. Brutality is presented in lieu of cogency. You can’t just lob in a handful of curveballs at the end of a film and leave it at that.
As for attitudes to women in the film, sure, all the women are victims or monsters, but that was evidently McKee’s intention. He knew he’d get noticed for this and crowbarred in as much inappropriateness as possible, whether it added anything to the plot or not (including the ridiculous inclusion of the Hot Female Teacher who simply works her way through a catalogue of professional errors before ending up as chow). McKee doesn’t really give us any positive characters at all, though, and certainly no positive male characters; this is a knowing walk through provocation, all overlaid with a bizarre, jarring lyrics-irrelevant-to-plot soundtrack.
What we have in The Woman, put simply, is a high-gloss exploitation flick which believes it’s art and has been sold to fans along these lines. Many fans have swallowed this whole. It certainly isn’t the first time in recent years. Martyrs (2008) springs to mind, and there’s even some similarity in theme when you consider we have another round of female imprisonment and torture to ‘better’ a woman here. Well, many fans evidently enjoyed this polished piece of shock cinema, but I did not. I’m fed up of filmmakers distinguishing themselves only by how much controversy they can drum up, and if I want to watch an unsettling film which deals with the topics of gender and power, give me Deadgirl (2008) any day. I will say one thing, though – this is one film which many, many people will end up seeing, regardless of how they then feel. Thus we have the strength of this kind of movie – a movie which has got itself noticed, after all, even in a very crowded market – and, doubtless, there’ll be more like this on the way.
Revolver Entertainment release The Woman to Region 2 Blu-Ray and DVD from 17th October.