Friday, February 24, 2012

She Is Woman, Hear Her Roar! : Thoughts on THE WOMAN (2011)

It is with the knowledge that everyone is entitled to their opinion that I am able to write about The Woman. I realize I'm going to catch a lot of flak for this post, but I am of the mindset that this film is just a little too over-hyped.  Having seen it recently makes me pause to wonder a bit how it landed on the top of so many best-of lists for 2011.  While I will readily admit some of the acting (in particular Pollyanna McIntosh as the title character) was very good, for me there were just too many other minor faults to be fair in lumping it with a "best of" list. At least in the 'list' I concocted. No, no, no - I didn't hate it.  I didn't even dislike it.  I just didn't love it.

The Woman is well directed by Lucky McKee, a fan favorite in the horror community, having already directed some noteworthy flicks (May being one of them, Masters of Horror Sick Girl another). He had an in as far as getting the attention of the horror crowd, as most waited with bated breath for the next project he'd do.  I actually am a bigger fan of McKee's The Woods than I am any of his other stuff, and so you can already surmise by reading that that The Woman wasn't going to replace The Woods anytime soon in that respect.

Writing credits include both McKee and Jack Ketchum, one of the premier horror novelists of our time.  Brutal, provoking, and at most times crude, Ketchum has written some crazy stuff - much of which has been brought to film (including The Girl Next Door, Red, and the "prequel" to The Woman - Off Season).  He never holds back, pushing outright horror down our throats like a runaway freight train barreling into a cement wall.  While The Woman never seems that fierce, it certainly demands attention and causes distress.
It seems at first like an experiment in misogynistic terror, but it's really just a horror film disguising itself as some sort of play on morality and decency, or lack thereof.  As in: when is it going too far?

The plot of the film is simple and straightforward.  Man sees feral woman in the woods.  Man brings feral woman home and abuses her. Feral woman takes her revenge.  The end. 
Of course there is a lot more going on here, as we had to have the man in the story have a truly dysfunctional family already - he even didn't need to add a female version of Mowgli.  The man himself, Chris Cleek (played to smarmy perfection by Sean Bridgers), is a small-town yet successful lawyer who has a beautiful house in the country and likes to go hunting on the weekends and treat his family like shit 24/7.  His wife Belle (the always fantastic and intensely interesting Angela Bettis) is a meek shell of a woman.  She wants to stand up to her husband but doesn't, time and time again.  Anytime you think she might be going to grow a backbone, she shrinks back away and cowers in the corner from her husband's ignorance - and his fist.  The rest of the family breaks down like this:  Lauren Ashley Carter as Peggy - the teenage girl who probably watches teen-mom reality shows for a reason, Zach Rand as Brian - a loner teen who gets off on putting gum in girl's hairbrushes and is destined for serial killer status, and Shyla Molhusen as youngest daughter "Darlin" (yep, I can't make this shit up), who just wants everyone to get along.

When the film starts the audience sees The Woman (which is how we must label her because naturally she has no name) in her wild environment, living in a cave and living off raw meat and the likes.  Dirty from head to toe, she still managed to find some ratty clothing that covers up her nakedness, as well as somehow cutting her hair into ridiculously ugly bangs and oh yeah, LIVING IN THE WOODS OF SUBURBAN AMERICA WITHOUT ANYONE EVER SEEING HER!  Chris Cleek owns a farm, sure.  But just how isolated is it?  How is it that no one has ever noticed a feral woman at the nearby creek, spearing fish with her hands and showing off her boobs when her holey shirt just happens to fall to the side? No one ever saw her?  I'm sorry, but Mr. Cleek doesn't live that far removed from civilization.  Yes, I'm aware we're supposed to suspend belief here, and normally I don't have any problems doing just that, but this was all just a little too convenient.

And lets face it, if most people found a wild woman in the backyard they would NOT chain her up in their backyard basement, ridicule, defile, abuse, and torture her.  Most people would probably head off in the other direction, call the cops from their cell phone (in their car, mind you) and point in the general direction when the authorities gather. I repeat, most people would NOT bring the untamed oddball home.  Additionally, most folks would not practically take her top layer of skin off with a pressure washer, feed her oatmeal that was three days old and dumped on the floor, or try to pull off her nipples with a pair of pliers.  Most importantly, they would not RAPE her.  Sure, they might think about it (you sick bastards), but seriously who would ever go that far?  Who even knows where her female parts have been? ( If you're answering that yes, you would go that far, then we are no longer friends.  Head on home to your grandma's cellar where you play video games all day, eat Cheetos, and call 900 numbers for fun.)

But hang on!  The Woman is not all bad.  Actually none of it is bad, just rather dull. I have listened for months while friends of mine have raved so enthusiastically about this film, and to be honest I couldn't wait to see it.  Perhaps it was the bombastic fervor that they had for it - maybe that is why I was somewhat disappointed once I finally saw it. I just kept waiting for something utterly insane to happen.  I had to wait nearly 90 minutes!  Maybe I've just seen too many of these kinds of movies? I don't know.

That being said, I have to admit the acting among the three main leads (The Woman, Belle, and Chris) is really way above par.  As previously mentioned, Bettis is in fine form here, as usual.  As a defenseless wife and mother who is wondering just what the hell is wrong with her husband, she shines.  From day one when Chris brought home the feral woman, her indifferent attitude towards her husband's sheer madness is puzzling yet well played.  When it's obvious that she has no say in anything Chris has to say or do, we watch her slowly unravel until she has an illuminating moment of cognizance: oh yeah! My husband is fucking nuts! Not that it does her any good, mind you.

Bridgers, as Chris, is simply the most uncouth, annoying, downright disturbing man I may have ever met in film. A respected man of the community, he sets forth with intent (after witnessing the feral woman washing herself in a creek) to capture her and try to civilize her.  Man, if it were truly as easy as tying someone up in manacles to get someone to have some decorum and culture, I'd be buying them in bulk and passing them out to the public at my day-job.

Chris and Belle's three kids are a prime example of putting the fun in dysfunctional.  Peggy is an obviously depressed teenage girl who is trying to hide a big secret.  Too bad we, as the audience, can figure it out in about ten minutes, and it's really not all that shocking.  Brian is oh, fifteen-ish and at first seems like the nice, quiet type. Not so, he's just harboring a menacing case of assholishness (yes I just made that word up) that he breaks out about a third of the way though the film and he certainly doesn't look back.  He's turning into his father right in front of our eyes.  And like I said, little sister Darlin' is basically filler.  Sad but true.

But if we're talking fine acting, we're talking Pollyanna McIntosh.  As the title character, she is a wonder in the film. A force of nature!  And she really has no lines, short of a whole lot of grunts, groans, screams, and indecipherable words. And how they got her to look so damned ugly is beyond me, with her shocking facial expressions and her enraged growling, she was more frightening that anything else in that entire film and probably the last hundred films I've seen.  It reminded me a bit of Mercedes McCambridge as the voice of Pazuzu in The Exorcist.
Her cold stare into the eyes of her captor tells a story without ever saying a word.  And it's for this reason that the film does redeem itself for me, because for a greater portion of the film, not too much is happening save a shaky domestic lifestyle and an abusive couple of males threatening and man-handling all the women in their lives.

The Woman
felt like several films I'd already seen, including the aforementioned The Girl Next Door (another film in which nothing happens except people poking, prodding, molesting, and torturing a woman strung up and helpless). I am trying so hard to understand why everyone thought this film was so far above everything else last year.  Slow year? 

So what was there to like besides the acting?  The ending.  It was a bloody good mess. I was disgusted by parts of the outcome, and thought the last few moments were more prosaic than poignant, but the gore was amped up and we finally got what I'd been waiting for: a bit of action.  Though I couldn't help but visualize the movie Sling Blade in my head.  It just wouldn't go away.

Regardless, I think my biggest fault with this film, though, is the music and the sound.  I'm not saying the soundtrack is utter crap.  I'm just saying its presentation is flawed.  Most times, I much prefer an actual music score, and find that in many cases when songs are substituted in lieu of background scoring that the films are the worse for it.  This film is a perfect example.  By trying to set up scenes with random indie songs blaring in the background, the film suffers because you cannot hear the dialogue that is so vital to said scene.  Films that use both a general score as well as a few songs here and there work out pretty well, if I'm being honest.  A good example of a song setting a scene is in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. Blonde cuts off that guy's ear while "Stuck in the Middle with You" plays in the background.  I also liked the use of "Freebird" in both "The Devil's Rejects" and "Forrest Gump". Two vastly different films, but the song is appropriate for both.  As a matter of fact, Forrest Gump did a great job of mixing score and song.  So did "The Craft", if I'm being honest.  But I just wasn't feeling it here. And again, it was so loud it drowned out my brain function.
Between that and those damn dogs barking,  I couldn't clear my head enough to enjoy what I was seeing.  Way. Too. Loud.
Suffice it to say the sound editing left a lot to be desired, and this thought is shared by many people I know. Some dialogue was wiped out by loud songs or barking dogs, and when you could hear people talking you had to turn up the volume, only to be blasted out when the song stopped.  Ugh. And it's not like my own sound system is lacking, believe me.  It wasn't me, it was them.
Please, next time:  a score.  Throw in some actual songs here and there, fine.  But don't be cheap.  It shows.

Yes, I know I'm in the minority here by not falling head over heels with The Woman. Perhaps a second look would garner a better opinion. But I've never been one to be a sheep and follow others off the cliff. If I'm not crazy about it, I'm going to call it like I see it.  I do recommend anyone reading this review take a look at this film though, because like I said, everyone is different.
In fact, for a great review of the film, click here.
For some great thoughts on Pollyanna McIntosh's chilling turn as "The Woman", you must read this.
And....for an insightful interview with the director, click away...

Final thought:  You may love The Woman.  But don't begrudge me because I didn't.


Pax Romano said...

Terrific review...I am got to try to see this soon and we will compare notes. I agree with the use of pop songs as background music - so trite.

Kaijinu said...

all this talk about this movie is making me wanted to see it more. Knowing those who abuse "The Woman" will get their just desserts makes me wanna see it even more

Christine Hadden said...

Can't wait to hear your thoughts, I'm thinking they may run close to mine..
And I much prefer a subtle scoring to a jarring soundtrack any day!

Anonymous said...

I am with you on the music cues being RIDIC but I kind of admired the film for just going for it, and McKee for just committing to the whole concept/aesthetic. I actually really liked some of the music stuff but there were too many montages! And too MUCH of it. I did dig the whole feminist framework of the movie: that is, the time spent on registering the eldest daughter and mom's reactions, and I totally dug Angela Bettis' big outburst/blowup. I thought the actor playing the Dad was weirdly a flatline, and too Will Ferrell-ish for comfort. It's a mixed bag - but that ending is exquisite (okay, leaving out the post-credits twee animation fantasia, which was so Science of Sleep-meets-Miranda July-meets-just stop it immediately.

Christine Hadden said...

Anon: Agreed, there were way too many montages and much too much of the cutting away. I'm assuming the cutaways were to make an impression but all they did for me was make the film feel disjointed.

That said, I did pronounce the acting to be quite good, and I do stand by that. But as far as the director going for it, I still feel like it was the combination of about four films and three books for me, it didn't really feel original. But hey, that's just me.

*For a really spooky "feral woman" film, check out the Spanish film, Shiver. The title suits it well.

Doug Brunell said...

Great review. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have wanted to. I do think it is far too easy to get people upset these days, though, but when it happens I want to check out what did it. As for mentioning "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Devil's Rejects," I've written about those two songs and films before. Bingo. You got it.