Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Woman - or 'The Women'?

[Spoiler warning: This article contains a discussion of certain plot points]

The long awaited new film from talented director Lucky McKee, The Woman is his first feature film since The Woods back in 2006.

Always one for the bizarre and macabre, McKee’s The Woman is a story about a family man who discovers a feral woman living in the woods and decides to kidnap her and keep her prisoner in order to civilise. Although already sounding a bit ‘out there’, this barely scratches the surface as really the story revolves around domestic violence and abuse and how the true nature of evil can always lurk behind the fa├žade of normalcy.

Introduced in the opening scenes at first as simply a guy suffering from a whiff of douchebaggery, the true extent of the father’s horrific nature and degree of control and influence he has over his family is only revealed as the film goes on – his charming outward persona slowly peeled back to reveal further deepening layers of increasing depravity. What at first seems like almost childlike enthusiasm for his pet project slowly reveals its true sinister nature. It's a stark reminder of how the true psychos in this world aren’t running around with chainsaws or hockey masks but are often hidden away in plain sight – posing in this case as a respectable pater familias.

The real theme that permeates the film however, is the role of women. Whilst the actions of the father character are the driving force throughout the story, it is the various women of the film and their reactions and coping mechanisms that make up the substance of the narrative. McKee regular Angela Bettis as the mother, locked into silent and submissive servitude by the tyrannical father, a psychological prison – a direct contrast to the physical imprisonment of the feral woman, who without the chains is more than able to survive and take care of herself.

We also have the elder daughter, also living in fear – compounded by the early stages of a pregnancy that may or not be by her father’s own hand. The younger daughter too – still innocent but brought up in an environment where it’s taught as perfectly normal to have a person chained up in the basement. And finally the teacher character – who despite having the moral fortitude to intervene in the situation is totally unprepared for what awaits her as truths are uncovered.

Although the film is entitled The Woman as a direct reference to the feral woman, it also refers to all women in the film and how they are viewed and treated by the father – made explicit in the a scene near the end with his rant against womankind and how they are to blame for everything.

The subject of nurture is also a recurring theme throughout and the effect the absence of a mother can have on someone. The feral woman is presumably brought up in the wild from a young age – she cannot speak but is more than able to hunt and kill to sustain herself. Since the mother character’s influence on the family is severely stifled by the father, the son (the only other male role in the film) gradually grows in his likeness – including the more disturbingly sociopathic aspects.

The shocking reveal of the existence of another daughter, referred to only as ‘anophthalmia’, shows a more extreme and direct way of how one is a product of their environment – literally raise by dogs. Incidentally, the father blames the initial condition she suffers on the mother too (‘your shame!’).

The Woman succeeds as a horror movie, one that contains a sharp commentary on gender roles as the usual shocks and gore expected from the genre. With excellent performances all around – most notably from the father (Sean Bridgers) and of course the feral woman herself (Pollyanna McIntosh) – the film disturbs and lingers in the mind long after you've finished watching.

12 Jan 2012

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