Lucky McKee’s striking 2002 horror-comedy May re-imagined the Frankenstein myth through the story of a young woman so isolated and antisocial that her only real relationship is with a creepy, handmade doll encased in glass. McKee’s new provocation, The Woman, extends his sympathies to another female in extreme isolation, this time a feral “savage” who’s captured in the Northeast woods and given a brutal introduction to civilization. Conceived in collaboration with horror novelist Jack Ketchum—the two released The Woman in book form in May 2011—The Woman is a feminist exploitation movie, and while that may sound like a contradiction in terms, McKee and Ketchum are all too happy to splash around in such choppy waters. They attack the patriarchy via gory scenes of women being physically, psychologically, and sexually abused. For many feminists, the film will likely be a “With friends like these…” proposition.
As with May, however, there’s a keen intellect behind that impulse to shock, and McKee’s wicked sense of humor helps make the film more palatable, though still not remotely for all tastes. In a performance of alpha-male viciousness to rival Aaron Eckhart in In The Company Of Men, Sean Bridgers stars as an upper-middle-class attorney and father of three who discovers “The Woman” (Pollyanna McIntosh) while hunting in the woods outside his house. Treating her like a wild animal, Bridgers throws a net over her and holds her captive in his cellar out in the backyard. He makes his family aware of the situation, and though the women of the house—including his defeated wife (May’s Angela Bettis) and teenage daughter—are clearly uncomfortable about it, Bridgers announces his intention to “civilize” his detainee.
At first, The Woman seems to be a macabre twist on films like The Wild Child or The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, where the taming of an untamed human feeds into a critique of polite society. But as the depths of Bridgers’ depravity become clear, McKee and Ketchum engage in an all-out assault on the fraternity of men and the outrageous lengths they go to when trying to keep women in line. It doesn’t make this point subtly, and though that’s entirely by design, the strategy backfires whenever the film’s themes surface in the dialogue. Yet the mix of blunt sexual politics and dime-store-paperback luridness has the bracing quality of tub-brewed rotgut. It eats away at the stomach lining—that is, if it can be stomached at all.