Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Woman

I'll start this by saying that Jack Ketchum is one of the greatest horror writers alive. He's better than a lot of the great dead ones, even. To read one of his books is to put yourself in the hands of someone who goes way farther than you think he might in service of telling a story or creating a feeling within the reader.

Mr. Ketchum teamed up with filmmaker Lucky McKee to write a novel, which then became this movie. McKee had an amazing debut with the movie May, then seemed to run into studio trouble with his next films The Woods and, especially (considering he was fired from the production, to its detriment), Red. Not the one about retired spies, but the one about Brian Cox and his dead dog. But I digress. They make a great team, and if you haven't read their new collaboration I'm Not Sam, I recommend it highly.

This movie is about seeing just how much evil and hatred can be shoved underneath the coverlet of polite upper middle class society. A lawyer with a beautiful country estate finds a filthy wild woman out in the woods, so he decides he's going to capture her, take her home, put her in his cellar and civilize her with the help of his family. His wife is shellshocked and wary - the type of person who would let their husband rape their daughter out of fear. His older daughter is deeply depressed and withdrawn, for what would appear to be obvious reasons. His son is a duplicitous scuzz who he is clearly molding into his own image. Only the youngest daughter has any vitality or apparent hope for a life beyond this bizarre clusterfuck - and I'm not even mentioning everything that comes to light before the end of the film.

There are several factors that make this movie particularly interesting. For one thing, the music is jarringly incongruous. I chose to see it as the inner dialogues of characters coming forth, rather than tonally appropriate picks. It's actually pretty funny stuff to hear upbeat, almost bubblegum type pop music when horribly heinous shit is happening on screen. Black comedy, to be sure, but not ineffective. The character of the Woman is fascinating, too. She barely speaks a word (of English, anyway), but is communicative enough - especially when she is let out of her chains.

I can't say that everything works in this film. There's a side character (a teacher at the older daughter's school) that falls pretty flat. Some actors are not as good as other actors. The subtext is so strong that it's not much of a subtext at times. There are many obvious symbols. Only the Woman is both a good and bad character - most of the others are either one or the other. Maybe the mom qualifies, too, but she'd be a whole lot more good if she had kept her husband away from her daughter, you know.

This is a beautifully shot movie that has strong undercurrents of unease and dread. The last reel, so to speak, is doused in gore and absolutely batshit fucking insanity. It even has what might be argued to be a happy ending. If this is what a union between Ketchum and McKee results in, I hope they work together many more times in the future.

Tomorrow: Men Behind the Sun

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