Lady vengeance – The Woman review

The Woman – Starring Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers and Angela Bettis. Directed by Lucky McKee. Rated R. Originally published August 6, 2011. By Simon Miraudo.

This review was first run during the Melbourne International Film Festival. The Woman is now screening exclusively at the Cinema Nova in Melbourne.

In David Mamet’s Spartan, Kristen Bell – starring as the jaded, kidnapped daughter of the president – tells her saviour – played by Val Kilmer – that she was “raised by wolves”. Of course, that’s just a classic bit of Mametian dialogue, and not exactly the truth for Bell’s character. If the eponymous woman of Lucky McKee’s new film could speak English, however, she could deliver this line with honesty. As we see in the opening credits, as a baby she was cared for by animals, and taught to survive as a savage in the wilderness. Now fully grown (and played by the fearless Pollyanna McIntosh), she catches the eye of family man and keen hunter Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), who decides to capture her, chain her up in his storm shelter and teach her to be a civilised young lady. He calmly, but forcefully, instructs his wife Belle (Angela Bettis), daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) and son Brian (Zach Rand) to wash her, feed her and clean up her “mess” – they best not get too close to her though, lest she bite off their fingers, like she did to Chris.

As you have likely already assumed about a horror movie in which a woman becomes enslaved by a seemingly-cheerful-but-actually-horribly-cruel man, things get a little rapey, and eventually, the whole thing explodes into an orgy of violence. At the film’s now-notorious Sundance screening, a cinemagoer screamed at McKee and demanded the print be banned, burned and other such extreme things. And to this I have to say, “Really?” As horrific as the description above may sound, the film is not that horrendously, gut-churningly violent, and the sexual attacks take place mostly off screen. Not only is it not that controversial, The Woman is also too thoughtful to deserve such a reactionary response. Compare it to the similar Dead Girl, in which two boys discover a young lady who can’t be killed, keep her imprisoned and then do terrible things to her. Dead Girl attempts to titillate the audience with scenes of rape, violence and necrophilia; it seems to get off on its own smug sense of extreme-ness. As a result, it’s a vapid and rather lame attempt to be subversive.

The Woman, on the other hand, isn’t concerned with such things. It cares about its characters. In fact, The Woman isn’t just about the woman; rather, it’s about Belle, Peggy, Peggy’s concerned teacher Ms Raton, Chris’s secretary, an old woman who is losing her house, and a couple of other ladies whose identities I won’t spoil for the sake of the final act’s big reveal. The Woman is about the different types of cruelty Chris and Brian inflict on these women. It’s not about why they’re cruel, but rather, to what degree these men can be cruel. And even thinking about the extent of their truly evil, misogynistic nature is the sickening part. Don’t mistake the film itself for being misogynistic. The female characters here are the only truly human ones, including our titular savage. I suspect McKee would have called the film The Women, if another, equally horrifying film hadn’t already snapped up that title.

3/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Woman has a limited run at the Cinema Nova in Melbourne.

2 Responses to “Lady vengeance – The Woman review”

  1. Simon your reviews of late have been too high-brow, wordy and dull. This one was OK and worth wading through just to click on the “equally horrifying link”. I’m still laughing. Good one!

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