In Review: The Woman (Film 4 FrightFest)

By Vicki Cole

Lucky McKee follows 2009’s The Offspring with the story of Chris Cleek: a lawyer who rules his family with an iron fist and becomes transfixed with a feral woman he stumbles across whilst hunting. Cleek put his whole family at risk when he captures the woman and tasks his whole family to assist in civilising her, and is completely unaware of the danger he has brought into their home.

The Woman often feels like a film that is at odds with itself with too many stories, which do not naturally fit, juxtaposed together. Whilst it is undeniable that these ideas and concepts are both relevant and intriguing, they would be better explored in their own right. It seems that the concept of a patriarchal father abusing the women within his own family unit is not dramatic enough and only through the introduction of a feral woman, whose existence comes with no explanation whatsoever, can the concept of psychological and physical abuse of women be effectively explored. A notion that seemed to this reviewer, quite simply, nonsensical.

It is suggested that the woman has been captured in order to civilise her but there is never any indication that this is out of any form of compassion, the sexual undertones of the film are so obvious that it never feels as though she has been captured for any other reason that to satisfy Cleek’s sexual urges and his desire to overpower women.

Does The Woman seek to provide a commentary on the role of gender within society? Whilst it demonstrates the horrendous abuses women are subjected to on a daily basis, behind closed doors, it fails to depict women as having any strength at all, most notably in it final sequence where all women, besides the feral woman who behaves like a wild animal, are little more than victims.

Pollyanna McIntosh turns in an impressive performance as the titular ‘woman’ whose howling and wild animal stares are truly terrifying – it is just unfortunate that her character is baffling misplaced in what is essentially a story documenting the physical and mental abuses within a family.

A striking performance by Zach Rand also captures an emotionally devoid young son who imitates his father’s appalling behaviour but the story would undoubtedly have benefited from a subtler turn from Sean Bridgers as Chris Cleek. If he’d been just a little more understated the atrocities he performs would definitely have proved more terrifying.

A key failing of The Woman is that its protagonist fails to differentiate between her captors. A woman (Bettis) whose fear of her husband has debilitated her from ever acting against him, not even to protect her own children, is tortured in much the same way as the men. There are no heroines here and any notion of sisterly love has been well and truly lost.

The Woman’ is reminiscent to 2007’s The Girl Next Door, both of which were in fact written by author Jack Ketchum, a film which dealt with the idea that if an adult participates in abuse in front of a child as if said activity were acceptable, a child perceives it as acceptable to perform the same form of activity themselves. What sets The Girl Next Door apart from The Woman is the underpinning exploration of guilt  and the realisation that it isn’t what you failed do that defines you, but what you choose to do next that counts. Its victims are not chastised as those in The Woman are.

Ultimately this film seems to suggest that a woman who lives in constant, paralysing fear of her husband is complicit in the violence and abuse he commits to others as she failed to stop him. This is a great injustice to women who are unable to stand up and protect themselves and a dubious viewpoint at best.

Vicki has awarded The Woman one Torch of Truth

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