While on a hunting trip, a pillar-of-his-community father discovers a feral woman splashing in a stream. Deciding that he and his family should undertake to "civilize" her, the man abducts the woman and subjects her to brutal treatment. However, the perverse project threatens to tear the family apart- and if it doesn't, The Woman may take that duty upon herself. Will the family survive? Do any of these characters even deserve to? That's the story of The Woman.
Horror films can often be fertile ground for social commentary; George A. Romero's early filmography is one particularly good example. In fact, subtext (about, say, racism or mass consumption) slips in nicely under the spectacle of gory deaths and big scares. Selling itself with the tagline "not every monster lives in the wild", The Woman seemingly posits itself as just such a film. Make no mistake, The Woman has plenty of bloody nastiness, not to mention an atmosphere thick with dread, and if internet message boards are to believed, the film is some sort of feminist screed against the patriarchy. Yet while it succeeds in delivering the genre fundamentals, you won't likely see this film popping up in gender studies classes any time soon.
Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) is the man who starts this all, and from early on, it's clear that he's a bad sort. He presides over his family with a casual sadism that cows his oldest daughter (Lauren Ashley Carter) and his long-suffering wife (Angela Bettis, channeling Karen Black with PTSD), but foments malevolence in his son, Brian (Zach Rand). Into that toxic mix comes the titular character (Pollyanna McIntosh), a savage, blood-spattered entity who's more a feminine force of nature than a human being; it's practically inevitable that the misogynist father seeks both to tame and sexually acquire this potent symbol of womanhood. But oh, the consequences of taking on a Von Trierian nightmare...
The Woman is strongest when it focuses on character moments and traditional horror sequences; director Lucky McKee constructs these both with visual and auditory flair. Unfortunately, anytime the actual story comes up, the movie flounders. You could call most horror movies preposterous upon reflection; it's the film's job to make sure the audience doesn't have time to reckon with that, and in this regard The Woman fails. A particularly egregious moment comes very late in the film, and a development that should be shocking is plainly confusing. The clumsiness of that event is presaged much earlier by observing a feral woman who shaves her armpits and apparently gets her bangs nicely cut. The approach to gender roles is rather trite; in fact, the movie is far more daring in what it says about cannibalism than how the sexes relate to each other. The Woman has its moments, but unfortunately invites scrutiny that it cannot stand up to.
The DVD release of The Woman includes the following special features:
-A behind the scenes documentary on the making of the movie, including a lot of nifty special effects bits and a few moments on the brouhaha that developed over the Sundance premiere of The Woman.
-A curious short film that's unrelated to the main feature, entitled Mi Burro.
-A music track of the song "Distracted", which is heard in the movie.