Cult director Lucky McKee shocked the world with his twisted and tragic May in 2002 and in 2011, made a sequel to the little seen cannibal film Offspring, titled The Woman, which many consider his masterpiece in both social commentary and gore. Offspring was the grisly tale of one family who encounters a cannibalistic clan habituating the woods near them. The Woman continues the story of the last living member of that clan, although it never mentions the events of Offspring and works perfectly well as a standalone film.
Arrow Video are gracing us with a 4K edition of The Woman and those with a stomach strong enough for this quasi-feminist tale of a family trapping and attempting to civilise a feral woman are treated to crystal clear sound and image, elevating the somewhat grimy visuals. Included is also a new restoration of Offspring and plenty of bonus material to keep fellow gore hounds happy.
The Woman is keen to be a feminist film. All male characters in the film have questionable morals and are… well, misogynistic pigs. The women are tragic doe-eyed victims, almost constantly on the verge of tears, except the titular woman, played ferociously by Pollyanna McIntosh, who fends for herself and just might be the most humane of them all. This is not a subtle film in any way, but McKee does find something worth exploring in the family dynamics.
The question at the heart of The Woman is “Who’s the real beast here?”. Dad Chris brings the dirty and animalistic woman he found in the woods home, claiming he wishes to civilise the woman, to help her. He’s doing a good thing by chaining her up in a root cellar and by washing her first with boiling hot water and later by a power wash, while lusting for her in front of poor wife Belle. Films exploring people, especially men, who believe they are good people even when they’re committing despicable acts are never not interesting and The Woman knows that, even if it can’t really give its female characters enough to do and trades much of the narrative’s potential for cheap shocks and gore.
And gore there is, plenty of it. The last 30 minutes descend into blood-soaked madness when things finally come to a boiling point within the family and daughter Peggy’s poor teacher picks the wrong time for a home visit. The narrative doesn’t necessarily come to a satisfying end thematically, but there is something incredibly powerful in seeing these characters get what they deserve.
McIntosh, best known for her stint in The Walking Dead, is convincing as the wild, titular Woman. Her hissing and snarling make her seem barely human, but in the end, it’s Sean Bridgers’ family man who is the real monster here. Bridgers played another monster in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, where he had captured Brie Larson, but there is something eerie about Chris’ seemingly perfect life and pleasant demeanour as he compliments his secretary’s new perfume. However, it’s Angela Bettis who steals the show as Chris’ wife Belle. Belle is both a victim and an abuser, stuck in a life that’s charming on the outside but that has hideous, violent undertones.
The Woman is a gloriously violent tale and what it lacks thematically, it makes up in shock value and gore. It’s a film where patriarchy and misogyny are alive and well, but not for long. This is a film filled with not just violence, but sexual violence and it begs the question, where does the line between spectacle for entertainment and cruelty go? If you’re willing to buy into its violent form, there is much at play here and Lucky McKee brings out great performances from (most) of his actors.
The Woman is out on 4K Blu Ray from Arrow Video on May 25th.
Dir: Lucky McKee
Scr: Lucky McKee, Jack Ketchum
Cast: Pollyanna McIntosh, Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis
Prd: Robert Tonino, Andrew Van Den Houten
DOP: Alex Vendler
Music: Sean Spillane
Run time: 101 minutes