Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN (2011)
When I saw Pollyanna McIntosh as new baddie Jadis on last season’s The Walking Dead, I screamed at the TV, “It’s the Woman!” It made me so happy because Pollyanna made such a permanent impression on me since seeing her in Lucky McKee’s film, THE WOMAN. She’s a finger-chomping, scowling badass, and, in my opinion, one of the most interesting characters in modern horror. Don’t get me wrong, as Jadis she needs to get taken out, but I hope not too soon. I kind of enjoy watching her be a thorn in Rick’s side. But that’s perhaps an article for another day.
THE WOMAN is the sequel to OFFSPRING, both written by Jack Ketchum. Lucky McKee directed and co-wrote THE WOMAN. It is an interesting film because Pollyanna, as the Woman, is the villain in the first film and the victim in the second. Similar themes are in both films, but ideas touched on in OFFSPRING are more strongly developed in THE WOMAN.
In OFFSPRING, The Woman, part of a feral cannibalistic family that has been hiding out in the cliffs along the Northeast coast for generations. Periodically, they attack, stealing women and children to add to the group. In the movie, they attack a young family, intent on stealing their baby, but are thwarted. The Woman the only one who escapes in the end. She wanders off into the woods, alone and wounded.
THE WOMAN finds the title character still wandering when she is captured by weekend warrior/ hunter Chris Cleek, played by Sean Bridgers. Chris is a successful lawyer and self-professed family man. He is also a misogynist of the highest order. He sees The Woman as the ultimate prize, a wild woman he can keep prisoner to all his fantasies. He chains her up in the cellar and announces to his family that she is their pet project; it is their duty to civilize her. They meekly agree without argument, and we get the first glimpse into a family dynamic horribly skewed.
Chris is a man in complete control of every aspect of his life. He’s charming and likable until someone tries to drift beyond his grasp. Then the mask slips and we see he is capable of shocking violence and just as capable of putting the mask right back on. The story wouldn’t work without strong female characters. Along with Pollyanna, we have the brilliant Angela Bettis as Chris’s wife Belle and Lauren Ashley Carter as daughter Peggy. Lauren blows me away every time I see her. Her performance in DARLING gave me nightmares. Angela, of course, teamed up with Lucky McKee in the iconic MAY and is deserving of an article on her work alone. These three women are by no means weak. They have been beaten down, but they remain interesting and complex.
It is possible to watch THE WOMAN without watching OFFSPRING, but I think it’s much more fascinating to watch both films. Chris is reminiscent of a character in the first film, Steven, an abusive husband tracking down his wife and son. The Woman takes care of him in a justified manner, foreshadowing her character’s motivations in the sequel. Chris is that subplot brought front and center. The Woman moves from villain to victim to heroine throughout the two movies.
Pollyanna’s character speaks in a guttural Irish patois. She also spends most of the film chained up. She has the most expressive eyes and is able to use her facial expressions and body language to make herself understood. Her wild nature comes through her stare. In an intense scene, Chris sticks his finger in her mouth and is quickly reminded that she may be temporarily bound, but there will be a reckoning.
Daughter Peggy is the heart of the story. From the beginning, it is clear she is tormented by some dark secret. She feels alienated from her classmates, and even her favorite teacher, Miss Genevieve (Carlee Baker), can’t seem to help her. Her secret is hinted at in a very disturbing scene in her bedroom with her father Chris. Her mother Belle walks in and knows what’s going on, but chooses to walk out without saying anything. Peggy is fully aware she is on her own, and it will be up to her to save the Woman, her little sister, and herself. Even her brother Brian (Zach Rand) is a lost cause as she stops him from assaulting the Woman.
Belle is complicated. She is obviously disgusted by what her husband has done, both to the Woman to the family, but seems to have resigned herself for her own safety. At times, she seems to have sold her children out, but there also seems to be a spark of resistance left. She eventually tries to stand up to Chris, only to get horribly beaten. Peggy frees the Woman , who proceeds to take out Chris, Brian, and Belle. That surprised me, but I saw it as punishment for Belle for refusing to stand up for the Woman and Peggy.
In the end, the Woman retreats back into the wilderness with the daughters. Whereas in OFFSPRING we see a triumph of civilized society over the savagery of cannibals, THE WOMAN is a rejection of poisonous patriarchy and dominance in favor of motherhood and Nature. It is difficult to think of other films where the same character is portrayed as such polar opposites. It would be interesting to know how writer Jack Ketchum really views The Woman after finishing both films: villain or heroine?