Before the latter half of the evening’s double feature, TMP was on hand for the TFW Red Carpet event where director Lucky McGee and several of the cast members of The Woman strutted their stuff before heading into the theater for the premiere.
On hand from the cast were the lovely Carlee Baker, the ultra-talented Sean Bridgers and the absolutely precious Shyla Molhusen.
We were also treated to two very interesting shorts by McGee. The first, a short film starring Carlee Baker and Angela Bettis called Blue Like You had us in stitches with its simple yet curiously provocative premise of a shockingly beautiful woman shockingly out of touch with the world.
Next up was an animated short film McGee produced called Mi Burro: Esos Hueos, a surrealistic journey through the horrors of a third-world country as guided by the imagination and heart of a young child and the brutish Burro he adores, in spite of the abuses and neglect he receives by the actions of the stubborn animal.
But despite the well-intended set up before the feature, nothing could prepare us for what the mind behind the cult-favorite May and the stellar Red had in store for us. Prepare to meet The Woman.
As the third entry in Ketchum’s Dead River chronicles, The Woman picks up almost immediately after the catastrophic climax of Offspring. Wounded and wandering, Woman traverses the woods and eventually finds shelter in a hidden cave where she begins her lonely life of survival again.
But when local country lawyer and hunter Chris Cleek discovers Woman bathing in a creek, he immediately sets himself to capture the wild woman and civilize her. But where all Pygmalion references end the horror begins as Chris brings his shocked family in on his endeavor.
As the days pass, carefully crafted facades begin to break down under the strain, caged emotions erupt and soon every family member is trapped in a hideous and chaotic fight for survival, proving that plainclothes civility can be just as horrfically savage and cruel as naked, raw nature.
Directed by: Lucky McKee
Starring: Angela Bettis, Carlee Baker, Sean Bridgers, Pollyanna McIntosh, Shyla Molhusen, Zach Rand, Lauren Ashley Carter
Written by: Jack Ketchum & Lucky McKee
Where to begin?
I have been a longtime fan of Lucky McKee’s work since All Cheerleaders Must Die, a brilliantly raw endeavor that I would recommend if it weren’t out of print. With the incredible works May and Red, McKee solidified himself as an indie-director to watch. His ability to bring an artistic flair and undeniable watchability to stark and depraved horror is the stuff legends are made of. Not to mention his brilliant ability to capture the vast sickness that often lays just beneath the surface of what would initially appear normal.
The film itself is lovingly crafted and it is easy to see that everyone involved greatly enjoyed their roles in the film. Camera work is stellar, capturing every nuance of every scene. Buried emotions play out to some of the best scoring and soundtracking I’ve seen since The Collector. One particularly fine moment depicts the slow decent into the hidden madness that plagues the family and the Woman, each character slipping slowly at their own pace into the darkness. Here, the imprisonment is not just in the cellar, but in the minds of those who inhabit the household and it extends excruciatingly out into the world.
The actors are all phenomenal save for a few dim points, but they are negligible in the scope of the whole. Angela Bettis is at her usual finest, brilliantly capturing the mentality and forced emotion of a battered wife desperate only to survive and protect her children.
Though trapped by a long run of TV appearances, Sean Bridges get the chance to showcase an incredible range after his last large gig on HBO’s Deadwood. What begins as a sort of goofy country lawyer portrayal eventually slips into one of the most depraved and disturbing performances of the past five years at least. I would have loved to have seen his audition tapes.
And once again, the up and coming Pollyanna McIntosh brings Woman to life in every way possible. With the combined instincts of a caged animal, an abused woman, and a creature of a singularly predatory mindset, McIntosh brings a powerful reality to the concept of the imprisoned human, cut off from society, subsisting soley on base instincts. You will feel every breathtaking emotion, every tortuous exertion laid upon her, and every bit her own inquenchable desire for freedom.
Every aspect of The Woman assists in the eventual build to the terrifying climax and not a beat is lost or miscued. Brililantly planned, executed, and showcased, this is one that will stick with you long after you leave the theater. But it’s not the bloodshed and gore that will keep you up at night, but the undercurrents; the subplots that will leave you questioning just how human we as a society really are and have the civilizing aspects of society really brought us anything in the long run as a species.
There is quite literally nothing bad within this film. If you can forgive a few actors some dim moments, you will walk away utterly shocked and fantastically impressed. Also for those with the knowledge, there will be holes regarding the concept of a human running wild for a lifetime. But these anatomical anomalies (tooth decay, infections, the biological effects of extended cannibalism, etc.) are easily dismisable to anyone with an imagination.
Acting: Phenomenal performances on behalf of Angela Bettis, Sean Bridgers, Shyla Molhusen, and Pollyanna McIntosh. Extreme note goes to McIntosh who takes the character from the lackluster Offspring and runs the gauntlet with it. Mesmerizing.
Directing: Lucky McKee once again proves that he and Jack Ketchum are nearly one and the same. His adaptation of Ketchum’s Red was phenomenal and The Woman stands out again as a stellar achievement in book adaptation. Everything was spot on.
Writing: The classic horror-themed, gory, rage-resolution that is Jack Ketchum’s bread and butter is all here and perfectly captured on celluloid. All it takes is the right translator.
Sound: Arresting, gripping, emotional, and suspenseful. Sound and scoring do in this film what they did for Psycho and Jaws. Pitch perfect.
Visuals: Brutal and visceral visuals throughout, though McKee eschews the bloody gore and violence throughout for more psychologically-warping extremes. The emotions at play are ones of survival, hatred, despair, solitude, rage, and ultimately matriarchal devotion and the cruel laws of nature. The expert display of the savagery of civilization and the methodical control of nature is brilliance on wheels.
The Woman stands not only as one of the finest true-horror films I’ve seen this year, but I’m happy to say that it holds that esteem for at least the past half-decade. Lovingly crafted visuals, seamless edits, beyond stellar casting, practical effects, powerfully touching and haunting score; you name it, McGee outdid himself in every aspect. To accomplish all this and maintain multiple subplots, cross genres, and touch on serious questions in today’s society is not only remarkable, but a step towards iconic status. I foresee a long and influential career in Lucky McGee’s future. This is the true face of horror and it is not to be missed.
I give The Woman a 9.5 out of 10