Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unlucky: THE WOMAN

Lucky McKee is a welcome peculiarity on the modern horror landscape. He manages to make artfully upsetting movies that wriggle away from easy classification all the while maintaining a deeply felt personal stamp. His early breakthrough was 2002’s May, a movie about a lonely, troubled young woman that plays out under a fog of memory in a way that teeters on the edge between dreamlike and nightmarish. I also enjoyed his 2006 feature The Woods. It puzzlingly went straight to DVD, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. On the contrary, it’s a creepy all-girls boarding school movie with a thick tangle of foreboding atmosphere.

His newest film is The Woman, perhaps his most twisted film yet, and that’s saying something. It debuted at last year’s Sundance where it made news for the man who stormed out of the screening yelling and carrying on. The movie just plain made him furious. Before he was escorted out of the building, he shouted, “You are sick! This is not art! You are sick! This is a disgusting movie! Sundance should be ashamed! How dare you show this!” and more invective besides. There’s footage of this in the bonus features on the Blu-ray so you know the filmmakers weren’t too upset by it.

After all, The Woman is a provocation. It’s a film about a smiling misogynist psychopath (Sean Bridgers) with a gleaming family man persona masking darkness within. Out hunting one day he finds a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) and captures her. He decides it’d be a good idea to lock her up in the cellar and “civilize” her. She bites off his finger. His family is unsure about this, but decide to go along anyways. They’re under his total control. His wife (Angela Bettis) and teenage daughter (Lauren Ashley Carter) have ghostly cowed looks in their eyes; they’re ground under by his dimpled dominance. His teenage son (Zach Rand), most chillingly, has learned and incorporated his narcissistic, sociopathic, male-dominated, female-subjugated world-view.

It’s all kinds of nasty on the thematic level, about how men can keep women under their control in nefarious ways. It’s cruel. It’s a ruinous poison passed through generations of hegemonic power. This woman is locked up and, under the all-too flimsy guise of doing her good, the family is complicit in allowing her to be tortured and brutalized. The threat of the power structure shifting doesn’t even enter into the picture until it’s too late. Then it’s a total bloodbath for all involved, substantial grisly gore strewn about the property leaving no one unscathed.

This is an upsetting movie that wants to trouble an audience, to disturb and the distress. But it’s all teeth and no bite. The picture’s primed to chomp down on substantial thematic material but ends up nibbling more than feasting and the blood stays strictly on the screen. I was ready to engage, but left with little to chew on. The films of McKee never want for ideas, but here they fail to actualize, to live up to their slimy, disgusting potential. I was ready to make a defense of McKee’s latest shocker and am instead left unluckily disappointed. Yes, it’s gross. Yes, it has some welcome feminist themes. But it’s such an obvious, surface level provocation, merely unpleasant, that I had a hard time finding it scary, let alone interesting. 

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