THE NEW YORK
TIMES REVIEWS 'THE WOMAN'
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withdrawn teenager; Darlin’, his charming post-toddler daughter; and Belle,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.
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).