Judge Alice Nelson is woman, hear her roar; it's really more like an aggressive whimper.
Hell hath no fury like a woman imprisoned against her will.
Hmmm…I really don't know what to make of The Woman, a film about a misogynistic man who captures an untamed woman living in the wild and locks her in his cellar in an attempt to domesticate her. As the credits rolled and husband excitedly talked up the merits of the movie, I was left scratching my head and staring at the television, wondering what to make of it all. Not usually one who is at a loss for words, this movie gave me pause every time I tried writing this review.
Facts of the Case
Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers Deadwood), has a carefully crafted life as a respected attorney, husband and father of three. Underneath the façade is an abusive man who treats the women in his life with barely concealed contempt. After finding a feral woman living on his property, Chris captures her and locks her away in his cellar. (Yeah, that's what we all would do, right?) Claiming to want to 'civilize' her, Chris enlists his family to help in her detainment, but underestimates the cunning and determination of the untamed woman, who will do whatever it takes to once again live free.
It's not that I hated The Woman; I'm just not sure I liked it. Part horror movie, and part character driven story, it really defies all categorization, which I usually find to be an asset to a film. The three leading performances are top notch and the best part of the movie. I think it was trying to be too many things and because of that it felt a little disjointed. At times it is a story about a dysfunctional family and their bizarre relationship, and at other times a thriller about the abduction of a feral woman.
Frankly the film dealing with the strained family dynamics is a far more interesting movie. Bridgers is fantastic as the domineering Chris Cleek; never taking his performance over the top, instead using a quiet seething anger boiling just under the surface, ready to burst if he thinks that anyone in his family is questioning his authority. He speaks to his wife Belle in a tone that seems kind, but the words are often cutting, subtle put downs that keep her in her place. In one scene, Chris is casually brushing his teeth when Belle shows just the slightest concern about keeping a woman prisoner in their cellar (go figure). Without changing his demeanor, he slaps her across the face, finishes with his nighttime routine and gets in bed; calling his wife to join him as if he'd just kissed her on the cheek. The subtleties in Bridgers behavioral changes are frightening because they seem so real. Chris is a man who believes that what he's doing is right, even if what he's doing is imprisoning another human being.
Angela Bettis (Girl, Interrupted), is just as amazing as Chris' wife, who is but a hollow shell of a woman after so many years of living under oppression. Belle has a June Cleaver public persona, but inside she is not far from an emotional breakdown. Belle supports her husband in whatever he desires, even in a venture as sick as holding a woman prisoner. At the expense of her children and her dignity, she has resigned herself to be Chris' doormat, knowing what that kind of surrender will do. Bettis is brilliant in this role. At times I feel sorry for her, and then there are instances where I have contempt for a woman who would relinquish her role as her children's protector, even when she sees her son Brian (Zach Rand) following in his father's footsteps.
Pollyanna McIntosh is unforgettable as 'the woman.' The Scottish actress was in a similar role in a 2009 film called Offspring, and that is where writer/director Lucky McKee first saw her. McIntosh is more 'animal' than woman, and possesses an almost super human strength. She is the only female in Chris' life who isn't afraid of him. I wanted to root for her to gain her freedom, but she was so terrifying, I worried what would happen to everyone else if she were to get free. The woman resents the people, and rightly so, but would she be able to differentiate between who is really in charge of keeping her captive and those that are merely following orders? McIntosh never utters one word in the role; she expresses exactly what the woman is feeling through her animal-like grunts and primal screams. The 5'11" actress is an imposing figure whose purposed gate was most intimidating, the scenes showing her walking towards the camera are some of the most frightening of the film.
The Woman is presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the contrast of the beautiful countryside of Massachusetts against the heinous acts of Chris Cleek is quite an effective technique. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and in the extras we find out that the grunts and screams of the woman were McIntosh's actual voice, and those shrieks were terrifying. The Woman takes place in a gorgeous part of the United States, a place I've often wanted to visit. I just hope I don't run into a Chris Cleek or his captive wild woman when I do make the trek back east.
I enjoyed the performances in The Woman more than I did the movie itself. Some of the supporting cast is less than stellar, but since this is a low budget independent film I can overlook that. The film just doesn't resonate with me, I would've rather seen dissecting a man like Chris Cleek and divulging what drives a person to abuse the women he comes into contact with. Whatever this film was meant to be, there are more lows than highs, yet the performances of Bridgers, Bettis and MacIntosh are probably enough of a reason for someone to check out this flick. For me, it wasn't a waste of time but I have no desire to ever see it again. Kudos to director Lucky McGee, whose unique vision is a refreshing change from a Hollywood that thinks a new coat of paint on an old idea qualifies as original. Still, The Woman is like a kind of food that one must acquire a taste for, guess my palate prefers the common meal of a cheeseburger and fries more than it does the exotic faire that is this film.
After looking at all the evidence, I find the defendant not guilty by reason
of insanity and remand it to the state run mental institution.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
• Deleted Scenes
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