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THE NEW YORK TIMES REVIEWS 'THE WOMAN'
Article By: Andy Webster

One Big Happy Family (and Prisoner)

In the horror movie “The Woman” Chris Cleek is a prosperous country lawyer with oil industry contacts and a secretary he flirts with. He runs his handsome home with almost military efficiency, having trained his family — Brian, in middle school, a chip off the old block; Peggy, a wary, withdrawn teenager; Darlin’, his charming post-toddler daughter; and Belle, his docile wife — to heed his authority. He enjoys his camouflage gear, scoped rifle and solo hunting expeditions. So when he finds the fierce, feral Woman subsisting in the woods, why shouldn’t he capture her in a net, suspend her in manacles from the roof of a ground cellar and enlist his family in her “rehabilitation”?

That would entail hosing her down, feeding her with a bowl at her feet and, inevitably, sexual assault. (And the loss of his wedding-ring finger in one savage bite.) Shocks and revelations mount in this household Abu Ghraib as dysfunction nosedives into depravity and a neglected, famished dog penned in a barn barks a persistent refrain of suffering. Banal verbal asides, in the best David Lynch tradition, offer a lacerating comic counterpoint.

“The Woman” is not, obviously, a family movie, but it is, like much of the best drama, about a family — here, how an outsider upends its unhinged equilibrium. True to its genre, there is gore and sudden shrieks. But the movie does not linger gratuitously on physical torment; its tension derives from Peggy’s quiet dread and bouts of morning nausea at school, the cowed Belle’s self-hatred and Brian’s sinister, growing emulation of his father.

The cast is remarkable. Sean Bridgers, as Chris, exudes an officious, implacable masculinity. Angela Bettis, as Belle, is a portrait of festering rage, while Zach Rand, as Brian, and Lauren Ashley Carter, as Peggy, are dexterously understated. In the critical role of the Woman, the Amazonian Pollyanna McIntosh is a marvel of nonverbal acuity, projecting primal ferocity, maternal strength and an imperious grace. Her glances at each family member convey in an instant her laserlike assessment.

The director Lucky McKee, in this lean adaptation of a novel by Jack Ketchum and himself, maintains an artfully calibrated pace, investing a powerful parable with an abundance of closely observed details. Like David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski, Mr. McKee is a master at drawing suspense from pregnant silences. At this film’s Sundance premiere a number of people walked out, but to an extent that is to be expected. It’s discomforting to witness the abuses in “The Woman” — animal, sexual, domestic — when they are so frightfully familiar.

“The Woman” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for violence, nudity and strong language.

THE WOMAN

Opened on Friday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston and Chicago.

Directed by Lucky McKee; written by Jack Ketchum and Mr. McKee, based on their novel; director of photography, Alex Vendler; edited by Zach Passero; music by Sean Spillane; production design by Krista Gall; costumes by Sandra Alexandre and Michael Bevins; produced by Andrew van den Houten and Robert Tonino; released by Bloody Disgusting and the Collective. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes.

WITH: Pollyanna McIntosh (the Woman), Sean Bridgers (Chris Cleek), Angela Bettis (Belle Cleek), Carlee Baker (Genevieve Raton), Zach Rand (Brian Cleek), Lauren Ashley Carter (Peggy Cleek) and Shyla Molhusen (Darlin’ Cleek).