Tuesday, October 8, 2013

BOP Recommends... The Woman

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Directed by cult favorite Lucky McGee, of May and The Woods fame, the premise of The Woman may not inspire much confidence at first glance.


Set deep in the American south, it focuses on the Cleek household, a tight-knit family led by its affable, smiling patriarch, Chris. While on a hunting trip, he finds a woman wandering through the woods, wounded and foraging for food. Realizing that she's feral, Chris does what any good citizen would do: Knock her unconscious, chain her up in his basement, and tell his family that it's their Christian duty to teach her the ways of civilization... whether she wants it or not.


From that, you'd expect this to be nothing but a cheap exploitation story full of torture and sexual violence, no different than the Hostel knock-offs you can find cluttering any $5 bin. A big McGee fan myself, even I was reluctant to watch it after hearing about its content. But this director has a way of screwing with your expectations, and here it's no different: Chris is a wealthy lawyer, and his family are beloved pillars of the community, not the backwoods hillbillies that populate your usual horror movie. And what follows is a surprisingly restrained character study, about a seemingly ideal family secretly ruled by fear and abuse, and what happens to each of them when confronted by a woman who cannot be dominated.


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Each of their reactions are fascinating, from the mix of pity and revulsion Chris's wife Belle feels, to the festering jealousy and resentment she brings to the surface for middle-child Brian, already competing for his father's attention with two sisters. And while they're sizing her up, she's doing the same, giving the audience her opinion on each character with a pleading look, or a single fierce glance.

Highlighting it all is the original soundtrack by Sean Spillane, which comments on the action on-screen in subtle and biting ways. When Chris sees the Woman for the first time-- dirty, bloody, and eating a live fish-- an 80's guitar riff plays, as if he's watching a babe from a Whitesnake video. And a later scene of him abusing her is complimented by a passive-aggressive, "nice guy" ballad, about getting the girl of your dreams to see things your way.

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The level of powerlessness this movie makes you feel is truly unsettling, and as it builds towards its violent climax, you might find yourself feeling just as bloodthirsty as the protagonist... and once again, find your expectations challenged. If you're willing to give it a chance, The Woman is one of the most haunting, visceral horror movies of the past few years, and one you're guaranteed not to forget.

- James