10 days to Halloween: The Woman

, | Movie reviews

At a Sundance screening of The Woman, some guy sat patiently through the movie and then loudly berated the director during the ensuing Q&A. Then he stormed out of the theater. In the lobby, he held forth in front of a videocamera about how the movie should never have been made.

After the jump, I agree with him

I agree that The Woman should never have been made. But not for the same reasons as someone who was offended by the movie, which is understandable. This isn’t a movie for most people. It’s brutal. It’s going to hurt in a way that horror movies rarely hurt.

But it shouldn’t have been made because director Lucky McKee, after a promising debut with the movie May, has been having trouble finding his footing. Some of the best things he’s done have been small projects, like a short for Xbox Live called Blue Like You and a not-too-bad Masters of Horror episode for Showtime called Sick Girl. His feature films have been either disappointing or troubled. The Woods was a mess of rote horror and Red was a potentially weird revenge drama taken out of McKee’s hands before it was finished. Although there’s no doubt McKee is a talented director with a unique perspective, it seems his first name is a poor fit.

The script for The Woman is the sequel to a godawful movie called Offspring, in which a roving inbred cannibal family roves around upstate New York or some such unlikely place. An Adirondack Hills Have Eyes that didn’t need or deserve a sequel. Furthermore, it was written by Jack Ketchum, a novelist whose movie productions are mostly a miss for me. I can’t really abide Ketchum’s name on a movie after sitting through two (2!) adaptations of his novel The Girl Next Door. Imagine Catherine Keener torturing Ellen Page in front of a bunch of children for no good reason. Talk about movies that shouldn’t have been made.

Although when Ketchum “catches”, if you will, he he really catches. The Lost is overlong, indulgent, and very Ketchum, and up until the final scene, I was pretty sure I hated it. At which point I decided that it did exactly what it needed to do and I didn’t hate it because it was suddenly so effective. But for the most part, I figure I can take a pass on Jack Ketchum movie projects. Like The Woman, which was co-written by him and Lucky McKee as a sequel to Ketchum’s Offspring movie.

What’s more, it’s easy to look at The Woman as an entry in the torture porn genre. If I were to describe to you individual scenes devoid of context or tone, you would know exactly where to put this movie: on a shelf next to some crappy Hostel sequel. Who in his right mind wouldn’t storm out of a screening?

So on multiple counts, The Woman is an unlikely project. If I was a betting man, I’d never figure on this movie going anywhere even if it did get made. Which is partly true, because if you want to see it now, you’re going to have to find one of the few arthouse screenings.

But it did get made, and eventually distributed, and I couldn’t be happier. There’s no doubt The Woman is a brutal and uncomfortable horror movie. But it’s also a thoughtful, hilarious, and surprisingly relevant horror movie. It is the latter day equivalent of Jonathan Swift’s famous modest proposal that the poor eat their own children. Satire shouldn’t just be funny. It should be horrifying.

I’d just as soon avoid discussing specifics, because The Woman is an experience better left to unfold for itself. The movie it most reminded me of is Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s Western meditation on the folly of manifest destiny. The two movies couldn’t be more different in terms of style. Meek’s Cutoff is slow and laconic, full of what painter’s call negative space. It is genteel to a fault and full of unlikely poetry, both verbal and visual. The Woman is low budget, often crass, and sometimes shot like a made-for-TV movie. It has a boppy indie rock soundtrack. It’s about as R-rated as you can get.

But both Meek’s Cutoff and The Woman explore the intersection of savagery and civilization, and the effect they each have on each other. Both movies are ambiguous but cautionary tales about trying to tame the natural order, about Man’s — yes, Man’s — sense of domain, about conquest and colonization and cultural imperialism and things that should be 100 years out of date. Both movies are about dim well-intentioned clowns with utter conviction and what that conviction does to the people around them and, by extension, the world. Is it any coincidence that Sean Bridger’s performance in The Woman resembles Will Farrell’s George Bush impression?

Now I’ve gone and done it. I got political. On our recent podcast for Kevin Smith’s Red State, we talked briefly about politics and horror movies. The Woman probably belongs in that conversation. But more importantly, it belongs in any conversation about horror movies. If you like horror movies — and I know you do if you’re reading this — you should see The Woman.