Monday, September 3, 2012

The Woman (2011)

The eponymous character in "The Woman" is apparently the last survivor of a cannibalistic, feral tribe. This Tarzan-like jungle woman lives in a cave, roams around the woods in tiny rags, hunts animals with her dagger for food, and bathes in a little stream running across the woods. In a long drawn sequence, with drone-like sound effects, a daily routine of hers is shown along with a dream vision of a baby and a wild dog!

Needless to say, she is totally unclean, has a horridly dirty mouth, but teeth that bite like an alligator! In one of her bathing routines, she is spotted by a successful country lawyer, Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), through the scope of his hunting rifle, during one of his hunting trips in the woods. One wonders why this cave woman was never spotted before in all these years! Perhaps she has been a nomad all along, but didn’t anyone ever discover her before, and hand her over to the authorities or provide help? No answers are provided for this implausibility.

Chris is immediately turned on by her beautiful body and animalistic body language and the mood suddenly shifts from dark and menacing to that of a light-hearted teeny bopper film, as some happy alternative pop-rock music starts playing, as Chris watches, like some curious teenager, his tongue almost sticking out, as the woman bathes and moves about in slow motion!

He promptly kidnaps her, brings her home and restrains her in his cellar! As it turns out, Chris has a family; a meek, but scary-looking wife Belle (Angela Bettis), two daughters, Darlin and Peggy (Shyla Molhusen and Lauren Ashley Carter respectively), the latter being a teenager, and an adolescent, aspiring basketball player, son, Brian (Zach Rand). But Chris himself comes across as a psychopath; a man who slaps his wife, mouths some cryptic ramblings, smirks wickedly and mumbles his dialog in a fashion that beats Harrison Ford in "Bladerunner"! This is the kind of character who drips wickedness from the first instance you set eyes on him.

Chris introduces his family to the woman and sets up tasks for each of the family members as a daily routine, as steps towards "civilizing" the woman! A totally lame explanation given, considering, shackling a woman up in the cellar like a circus animal and forcibly training her is hardly civilized behavior. The family members appear disturbed, but comply anyway. Over the next few days, Chris, and later his son, subject the hapless woman to inhuman treatment, force feeding her, dressing and undressing her at gunpoint, and also raping and molesting her, while she continues to remain shackled, all under the guise of turning her from an animal into a human!

That’s not all! While the youngest member of the family (Darlin) remains oblivious to the goings-on, Belle and Peggy are visibly disturbed, while there’s some other matter that also appears to be troubling Peggy. Her teacher (Carlee Baker) notices the change in her behavior and wonders what to do about it, while the primary characters, the family members continue to walk and talk like zombies throughout this bastardization of the horror genre. But what is bothersome is the inherent misogyny in the writing, and Jack Ketchum seems to revel in writing about women being brutally victimized. "The Woman", in fact, reminds of Jack Ketchum’s earlier film adaptation, "The Girl Next Door" (2007), based on the real life incident of the torture and murder of Sylvia Likens during the 60s. That film was a more blatant torture porn show, depicting a series of brutal acts, unleashed on a teenaged girl, by a woman, her kids and the neighbouring kids, while keeping her restrained in a cellar!

"The Woman" almost treads similar ground, except it pretends to carry a "feminist" message. The only problem is, merely adding an uplifting ending can’t make up for the various, unforgivable atrocities that almost all the women in this gruesome tale are subjected to. Sample this: Chris and his son, both rape and molest the cave woman, while she is still restrained, and the son even tortures her by piercing her nipple with a pair of pliers!! Other primary women characters in the film are collectively subjected to heinous acts like underage sexual abuse, brutal beating, slapping, punching in the stomach, verbal abuse, dragging around the lawn with hands tied, having their face eaten up, even being fed to the dogs! In the final act, in what seems to be served as comic relief, albeit in a macabre and bad taste, you even get to see one woman behaving like a dog!

If you have a writer that takes delight in creating situations that involve his female characters being subjected to atrocities, an able director usually does a good job of showcasing it, in a way that it gets under your skin. But Lucky McKee who gave us the wonderful "May" (2002) earlier, also starring Angela Bettis, misfires this time around with his shoddy writing (he has co-written the script with Ketchum) and substandard directing. One may argue, that director Lucky McKee, succeeds in emotionally draining the viewer out. While he tries, he doesn’t entirely succeed, for our focus keeps shifting to how badly some scenes are directed, hence rather than get emotionally gutted with the happenings on screen, we are distracted by the poor execution. 

Firstly, The soundtrack to the film is all wrong. Throughout the film there is background music that is completely out of sync with the nature of the scene being depicted on screen. Most of the music used is alternative or pop-rock that’s a total misfit and completely ruins any chance of building tension in some of the film’s more intense scenes. In fact, it near about drowns out some of the dialog in some seemingly ordinary, but important scenes, like the conversation between Peggy’s teacher and her male colleague, where a background score simply wasn’t necessary! Secondly, the film is almost devoid of any suspense, and you practically know how a scene is going to play out. Most of the shock value, then comes from the gore and the torture scenes! Such terrible handling, along with implausible situations, over-the-top characterization, and a hurried, unconvincing and unsatisfying climax, (albeit one that has enough "meat" to satiate the gore-hounds) bring the film down to the ground!

There is almost nothing that works in the favor of McKee’s obnoxious film, apart from a commendable performance by Bettis; and yet she isn’t half as great as she was in her earlier "May". Lauren Ashley Carter as Peggy, doesn’t do much, except sulk and sob helplessly, while Pollyanna McIntosh hunts dogs, gets manhandled by the male characters, gets exhausted, while still maintaining a considerably menacing look on her face and growls, hisses and bites once in a while! One also wonders how a woman who has lived so far from civilization all her life, manages to maintain a completely clean-shaven upper lip, armpits and legs!

Zach Rand as Brian is completely wooden. Sean Bridgers delivers an irksome lead performance as he grimaces and mumbles his lines as if chewing gum! His lines are much clearer when he is hurling abuses at the women!

With this grisly, but flawed and completely pointless mess called  "The Woman", what we get is yet another gory midnight horror, with lots of blood-and flesh-splatter and gruesome acts, but almost devoid of suspense or anything remotely exciting. In the end, it is simply akin to an exploitative grindhouse flick, with torture and misogynistic tendencies at its center. It is films like these, that are ruining the horror genre beyond redemption.

Score: 4/10

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