Wednesday, October 24, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #28: THE WOMAN (2011)

The Story: A power-obsessed misogynist takes a feral woman captive, and forces his family to help him "civilize" her.

Expectations: This is another film I learned about from Inside Horror.   It didn't sound like a movie I would particularly like -- I'm more interested in speculative and supernatural horror than in slasher movies and savage cinema -- but the series hosts were obviously impressed with the quality of the filmmaking and I'm a fan of writer/director Lucky McKee's first film, MAY (2002), so I decided to give it a shot.  Sometimes I watch movies like INSIDE (2007), THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2011) and THE WOMAN just to remind myself that this is a genre about breaking taboos, pushing boundaries, and going too far.  We're supposed to be horrified. 

Reaction: Like DEADGIRL, this is not an easy movie to sit through.  It drops us right into the very disturbing world of a very loathsome character -- a man who physically and emotionally abuses his wife and two children, and who is generally willing (nay, eager) to treat human beings like animals.  What keeps this film from being impossible to watch is the filmmaker's perspective.  I have no doubt that the basic plot of this movie will drive some people away.  Even more people will be driven away by the tone of the film -- it has a very dark sense of humor.  I'd argue, however, that the self-aware humor is what keeps it from becoming completely depressing and demoralizing (like, say, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR).  The film doesn't pull any punches -- it's designed to make us genuinely uncomfortable -- but it is nevertheless smart and the characters are well-drawn.

We are allowed to empathize with the man's long-suffering wife (played by MAY star Angela Bettis), his mysteriously pregnant daughter, and even his sociopath-in-training son.  The family dynamics keep it from being a simple, straightforward story about sadism -- instead, it's about how some some people allow themselves to play the role of victim.  Sharp distinctions are made between the three sympathetic female characters, so that the film to make a larger point about the dangers of becoming too "civilized."  Like many examples of the savage cinema, this film boldly reminds us that we have to fight to survive.  It also proposes that if fighting to survive makes us as monstrous as the victimizers... we should be ready to embrace our primal instincts.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Far scarier than the violence and the gore (and THE WOMAN is very gory) is a simple scene where the father sits on his daughter's bed, scratching her back and telling her he loves her.  We don't know anything about their relationship at this point, except what's conveyed by her body language.  That's more than enough.


  1. "Sometimes I watch movies like INSIDE (2007), THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2011) and THE WOMAN just to remind myself that this is a genre about breaking taboos, pushing boundaries, and going too far. We're supposed to be horrified."

    You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din! I have more of a reluctance at this age for savage cinema (INSIDE, MARTYRS, IRREVERSIBLE, etc.). And there's no way in Hell I'm going near A SERBIAN FILM. That said, I've read and heard a lot about this movie, THE WOMAN. I think you gave it a more than fair appraisal, Joe. Thanks for this.

  2. Fair enough. I can't exactly say I "liked" this movie... but I do think the storytelling was smart and morally responsible. And, yes, I was horrified.