in Review, Shocktober

The Woman (2011)

Lucky McKee should be a household name. I mean come on, he goes by LUCKY MCKEE. How great is that? Yet I rarely hear his name come up when people talk about the Masters of Horror—even though he directed an episode of the Showtime series Masters of Horror in 2006. I’m not sure you’d include him in the Splat Pack either. Which was a nickname for a collection of ultra-violent indie horror filmmakers in the 2000s. Lucky is somewhere in the middle. His films are basically coming-of-age dramas but with more face eating. Which at the end of the is all any of us want in our independent cinema.

Lucky hit the indie scene in 2001 with All Cheerleaders Die, a shot-on-video horror comedy made straight out of college with filmmaker Chris Sivertson. The film did little and is impossible to find now. Lucky followed this up with his signature work 2002’s May an engaging dark drama about a young woman (Angela Bettis) sent into a murderous tailspin after failing to connect with people. It’s an incredible film. Roger Ebert gave it four stars. But again, the film is rarely discussed outside of diehards of the genre. This despite the fact that it’s not a straightforward horror film or a straightforward drama.

If anything has held Lucky back from success it’s that he doesn’t fit into any specific box. Lucky is not a commercial filmmaker. He is a funny, tragic, and sadistic artist with a lot of integrity—and bravery. It takes a lot of bravery to make a film like The Woman. A film that’s one part family drama and one part rape/kidnap/cannibal/torture porn. Sound intense? You don’t know the half of it.

The Woman is based on a book. A book that’s a sequel to the 1980 cult cannibal classic Off Season by another underrated storyteller, Jack Ketchum. Who’s that? Let’s just say that Stephen King was once asked, “Who’s the scariest guy in America?” And he said “Probably Jack Ketchum. No writer who has read him can help being influenced by him, and no general reader who runs across his work can easily forget him.” Yet Ketchum (who passed away in 2018) was never a big seller or discussed in critical circles outside of his respective genre. I’m sensing a pattern.

Off Season,a book about a about a clan of cannibalistic savages, was made into the 2009 film Offspring with a screenplay by Ketchum. The film wasn’t well received and is hard to come by today which is why I went with The Woman. Also, Lucky had no involvement with Offspring as far as I know. In 2010, Ketchum wrote the sequel to Offspring, The Woman with Lucky McKee and a year later they adapted their novel to make today’s film.

The Woman is about a savage woman (McIntosh), wounded and alone—I assume after the events of the first film—trying to survive in the wilderness. She is kidnapped by Chris Creek (Sean Bridgers), an asshole country lawyer, who catches the woman and shackles her in his basement. Side note: Sean Bridgers also played a man who kidnaps a woman and traps her in the 2015 film Room. What’s the deal with that?

The rest of the cast includes Angela Bettis from May as Chris’ wife Belle a woman living in a constant state of trauma, their loner pregnant daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), their soulless son Brian (Zach Rand), and their youngest daughter, the naive Darling (Shyla Molhusen). How does Chris hide the Woman from his family? He doesn’t.

What I love about The Woman is it is anything but predictable. The first instance of this is when Chris is shackling the Woman in his basement and right off the bat she bites off his finger. A lesser movie would save this for much further in the film. A lesser movie would also have Chris keeping the Woman a secret from his family for as long as possible. In this, he does it right away. Not only that but convinces them he’s doing a good thing.

Chris treats the Woman like she’s the new family dog. Except Chris is not a good pet owner. He demeans and mistreats her and even rapes the Woman in brutal sequences. The rest of the film shows the rest of the family as they try to ignore the horrors at home and go on with their lives. As family dramas go this is dark.

Thankfully the Woman does get her vengeance I won’t go into the details but it is violent and it is shocking. Pollyanna Macintosh gives a mesmerizing performance showing both a vulnerable and vicious side. The family is equally compelling. Sean Bridgers, in particular, is amazing to watch, despicable, but amazing. With the amount of time spent in the family shed—where the Woman is kept—I could almost imagine this is a play. An entertaining but fucked-up play.

If anything this film and Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum deserve more attention. The Woman wasn’t easy to see and that’s a shame because it’s a sight to take in. It’ll make you uncomfortable but it’ll make you think and feel. I’m not sure if that’s how you’re supposed to feel watching a horror movie, but then again maybe Lucky McGee isn’t a horror director. Maybe he’s somewhere in-between.