MARCH 27, 2012
I have been putting off watching The Woman for a while now, because it was a follow up to what was easily the worst of the Jack Ketchum adaptations I have seen: Offspring. Plus, it sounded like the sort of grim, torture-happy movie that I’ve been trying to avoid as of late, so there was just very little to interest me beyond curiosity. But alas, if there’s only a year left of HMADing I need to make sure I get all these movies in, or else I may never get around to it.
Luckily, it’s nowhere near as bad as Offspring, or even as violent as I’d assumed. Considering the minor publicity the movie got after an audience member at its Sundance screening began ranting and raving about how vile the movie was, I was actually surprised to see that it was fairly tame in that department – the titular woman (who is the hero, basically) inflicts more violence on her tormentors than they do on her. Lucky McKee even keeps some of the story’s more disturbing elements off-screen or very vague – at one point we just see the main character’s son doing SOMETHING painful to the Woman, but it’s shot in a way that is impossible to understand what until later when we see the aftermath. It’s a unique approach to this sort of story – by the time the obvious payback comes around, we’re not yet numb to violence, unlike the usual torture-y movies like Hostel.
And at least there IS a payback. The movie is very similar to Ketchum’s Girl Next Door at times, in that it’s more or less about nothing beyond an innocent girl being held against her will and tortured at the hands of despicable people who carry on their everyday lives in the meantime. But unlike that film’s group of adolescent pals, this is a family unit: parents, two daughters, and a son. The father is played by Sean Bridgers, who for better or worse sounds exactly like Will Ferrell and even has some of the same facial mannerisms – it can be a major distraction, but it’s also perversely amusing, if you go the (small) extra step and just picture Ferrell himself in the role of a horrible, abusive person. As we learn over the course of the movie, what he’s doing to the Woman isn’t much worse than how he treats the women in his own family; they never come out and say it, but there’s more than a couple of suggestions that he is molesting the older daughter, and we see him slap around his wife (McKee regular Angela Bettis) more than once. Thus (spoiler!), when the Woman breaks loose and rips his heart out with his bare hands, it’s not only one of the film’s few big showcases of violence/gore, but it’s also quite justified and cathartic.
But there’s just no story here. Bridgers is an asshole, and for 90 minutes he proves this over and over again, until he gets his comeuppance. That’s pretty much it; there are few other characters to speak of, and no one really changes – from her first scene, we can see that Bettis is a meek woman trying to please her dick of a husband at the expense of her own happiness, and that’s how she is in her final scene. The son is a reprehensible sociopath who allows a little girl to be bullied at a party while he focuses on his basketball game, so when he starts doing the “bullying” himself, it’s hardly a big change. And so on. You could cut the entire middle of the movie out and it wouldn’t really make any difference.
At least it’s watchable, even compelling in its own strange way. The terrific soundtrack aids immensely; most of it is modern indie rock with a 70s AM gold flair, and the film has a few montage type scenes perfectly set to these tunes that ultimately rank as its most memorable moments. The acting is great across the board, and the prosthetic work is top notch – one character’s face is half torn off/eaten, and it’s all practical and quite good to boot. Having seen so many indie horror films of late using CGI that they can’t afford to implement correctly, seeing even a BAD practical effect in a film is something of a blessing. Seeing them done well is just heavenly.
The disc comes with a few deleted scenes of little use, a strange animated short film that has nothing to do with the movie as far as I can tell, and a music video for one of the songs that is sadly just a succession of stills from the movie. Much more worthy of your time is the 25 minute making of, which opens and closes with the soapbox-ing douchebag from the Sundance screening. Hilariously, they show this but provide it no context, which I love – why give this schmuck any more attention? The rest is pretty standard behind the scenes material, but covers a lot of ground and focuses on things like sound design as opposed to everyone saying why they loved working with each other. You also get a look at the lengthy makeup process for actress Pollyanna McIntosh, who is nearly unrecognizable when it’s all done.
I think at this point it’s safe to say that I’m not really a fan of Jack Ketchum’s writing. He seems to have a one track mind (“normal seeming people do horrible things!”) and all of his film adaptations lack any characters that are worth really caring about (Red excepted, for Cox - but how can you NOT root for a guy in that situation?). It’s not a bad movie by any means, and if you’re a fan of his writing I’m sure you’ll love this, but ultimately it’s just a big “not for me” effort.
What say you?
P.S. What the hell is up with that post-credits scene? It’s like Tim Burton mixed with the “Tonight, Tonight” video.