Regardless of how you may feel about Lucky McKee’s films, you can’t accuse him of chasing the easy dollar of franchise horror flicks. His films, deeply personal almost to the point of introspection, are about as far removed from the ‘Saw’ culture of the last ten years or so a horror film could be. Along with fellow director Ti West (House Of The Devil) it really feels like he belongs in a different decade.
His latest The Woman is a truly brave piece of cinema; it’s nuanced, intricate layers, play out on several different levels. The film focuses on the Cleek family outwardly living the apple pie American dream, father Chris is a very successful, well-respected lawyer, Belle is a doting mother and the three kids appear pretty well adjusted. But it doesn’t take long before you realise just how wrong these outward appearances are. As slowly and very, very deliberately we begin to see the father for what he really is ‘a patriarchal control freak who expects the women in the house to do as he says when he says’
While out on one of his regular hunting trips, Chris spots a woman roaming the woods, a feral creature that has roamed the wilds for 20 odd years, visibly excited he hatches his plan. Capture the woman, take her home and ‘tame’ her.
Before we know it she is chained up in an underground work shed and the family unit are ordered to keep her clean and begin to civilise her. Nobody argues or questions the fathers’ orders; they just do as they are told. The sexual tension during these early scenes are laced with undercurrents of abuse, dominance and fear; father and son bonding through the process, making for some very uneasy viewing indeed. In one particularly shocking scene, while getting ready for bed, the wife asks if they should really be doing this and Chris replies with a quick, sharp slap to her face before getting into bed and asking ‘are you coming to bed, honey?’ It’s chilling in it’s matter of fact portrayal of spousal abuse, but is positively Disney compared to what follows in the final half of the movie.
It isn’t long before things spiral out of control and unfortunately to discuss them here would only lead to spoilers, what can be said without a doubt is that you will not see what’s coming during the final 40 minutes of the film it’s a tour de force of visceral, brutal pummelling violence and degradation, that barely leaves you with a chance to gasp for air. By the final scene you’re dazed and shattered as there is not one member of the family no matter what their intentions are that does not play a complicit part in the violence as it unfolds.
The performances are uniformly excellent, Angel Bettis as the fragile mother is confused ,scared and literally lives in fear knowing fully what her husband is capable of, newcomer Zach Rand excels as the teenage son ,his sadistic streak becoming wilder as the film progresses, Sean Bridgers brings a frighteningly unhinged (yet calm) performance as the father and Pollyanna McIntosh portrayal of The Woman is as a force of nature, animalistic, sexual, violent and untamed.
McKee’s master stroke is his slow character builds, handling the abuse in a very matter of fact way managing to create a sense of dread and tension within the first half. At the midway point you are practically begging for the tone to shift, all hell break loose, and for the protagonists to get their comeuppance. Unfortunately when this happens the film has taken you to unexpected places and you begin to question why you were waiting for the explosion of violence in the first place.
Horror fans the world over talk of how there are not many truly original voices left and yet somehow we never seem to support them enough when they do manage to emerge, Lucky McKee seems to be cursed with this very problem, maybe his films are too real, too ugly, maybe we really don’t want to see how ugly the world is if we scratch just below the surface and look a little closer or maybe , just maybe all genre fans really want is a new Final Destination film at the multiplex…..
Either way support independent movies, see this and make your own mind up
Fri 30th Sept 18:15
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Thu 6th Oct 18:30