FrightFest 2011 Review: THE WOMAN

McKee is a real voice for the horror genre; he doesn't let the violence negate his keen-eyed examination of middle-class insulation, nor the other way around.

rating: 3.5

Lucky McKee shot onto the horror scene with his fiery, darkly comic little indie May in 2002, and has since dipped his feet into more mainstream Hollywood fare with acclaimed and established actors (The Woods, Red). His latest film, The Woman, however sees him return to his roots, guiding a mostly unknown cast through a brooding and disquieting plot about another troubled woman trying to escape dire circumstances, and under these low-fi conditions outside of the Hollywood system, one gets the sense McKee is probably better at home. The Woman begins with family man Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) stumbling upon a feral, dirty woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) during a hunting trip, and thinking of no better idea than to take her back to his family home and chain her up in the basement. While initially it appears that Chris's intention is to domesticate her, this soon gives way to his more pervasive, lurid desires, as the rest of the family unit, including a son and a daughter, are caught somewhat helplessly in between the powder keg that's primed to blow. Though it builds slowly in the first act, The Woman has that very same hard-nosed yet darkly comic edge which made May so enjoyable in the first place. Director McKee also finds himself being more adventurous with thematics, for this is not merely rooted in simple torture escapades; he mines the dirty underbelly of a middle class family, with the parental roles played exceptionally well by Cleek as father and May star herself, Angela Bettis, as the mother. The lack of shock on the part of the entire family when they see what Chris has done is amusing, though perhaps too dryly done for some audiences; the only dissenter is the wife, who nevertheless falls in line when threatened and is no more than a passive objector. The children, meanwhile, form a thoughtful commentary about avoiding repeating the mistakes or flaws of one's biological predecessor; the young son is violent and aggressive like his father, while the daughter has worries of falling into the same habits as her mother; one is apparently eager to follow the traveled path, the other is not. The ease with which the family unit nevertheless accepts what the breadwinner tells them is complimented by a methodical, brooding building of suspense and tension. Bettis is the best of show as the sexually and socially repressed housewife, jealous of how much time her man is spending with this younger, more attractive (once clean, at least) model. The more disturbing consequences of these events and feelings begin to abound in the violent final reel. In the final 30 minutes, the pay-off to all this ill will and atmosphere explodes; Bettis, the only nameable performer in the whole thing, delivers a fiery performance, while the narrative reaches a disturbing, really quite intense and bracingly brutal climax. McKee is a real voice for the horror genre; he doesn't let the violence negate his keen-eyed examination of middle-class insulation, nor the other way around. The Woman currently has no U.K. or U.S. release date set.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.