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THE WOMAN
DVD / Blu-ray. Revolver.

The WomanThe Woman has been a difficult film to review. While I try not to approach new films with any pre-conceived ideas of what to expect, in some cases you just can’t avoid it. The hype for this film, which built up and culminated at the FrightFest screening this summer, couldn’t help but have me anticipating something special – gushing reviews suggesting that this would be a revolutionary horror film.

So when I sat down to watch it, I had high hopes. And for a while, it seemed they might be fulfilled, with a moody, atmospheric pre-credits sequence that was potent enough to make you ignore the incongruous score. But at some indeterminable point, The Woman stopped being impressive and began to irritate. I’m not sure when, exactly, but the film gradually became more and more annoying, as the godawful and relentless college rock soundtrack, the self-consciously arty, music video visuals – which are much like those you’d expect to find on a video accompanying the afore-mentioned college rock score – and an overwhelming sense of smug self-satisfaction from the movie really began to piss me off.

It’s frustrating, because there is much to admire in the film. The story is strong and challenging: Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) finds a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) living in the woods and knocks her unconscious, dragging her to his cellar, where he keeps her chained up, planning – or so he tells his wide-eyed family as he shows off his prize – to civilise her. But in fact, the Woman has been taken from one level on savagery into another. Cleek is a smiling, polite lawyer on the surface, but a violent wife beater underneath, slowly raising his teenage son Brian (Zach Rand) to share his hatred of women and terrorising his wife Bella (Angela Bettis) and apparently pregnant daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), and only too keen to take out his frustrations and anger on all of them, his new captive included. Things come to a head when a schoolteacher arrives at the family home to offer help to Peggy, only to walk into the middle of an already explosive situation and make it worse.

The Woman has great performances from all the leads – McIntosh in particular is outstanding in a difficult role, making her wild woman both frightening, savage and vulnerable. It’s beautifully shot. It has some challenging ideas and a slowly building sense of threat that culminates in an explosively violent finale. It should, by all reckoning, be something of a masterpiece. But it’s not.

The Woman Director Lucky McKee seems too pleased with his own artiness, and his self-satisfaction works to the detriment of the story. Too often, the film draws attention to its own artifice and seems to be virtually demanding that you applaud its audacity. The relentless music, deliberately set against the tone of the visuals, drowns out any sense of atmosphere – there’s a knack to using music in an incongruous manner in a film, and this doesn’t have it. The fact that the songs are so unremittingly turgid hardly helps.

The finale also offers up problems – I won’t spoil it too much, but a final revelation that the Woman is not Cleek’s first 'captive' feels unconvincing, even if we accept that he has a family too cowed to question anything (including this dark family secret), and quite honestly seems to be thrown in just to justify some extra gore. Again, I know there are people who think this revelation is a moment of genius, so you can take your choice...

This should be a great film. Many of you will probably think that it is. It has all the elements needed; but I really didn’t like it very much. As I stated earlier, the film annoyed the hell out of me. It didn’t bore me, and despite a rather unpleasant edge, it didn’t offend me. I'll admit that it is a film that lingers in the mind, and I have no hesitation in saying that it deserves to be seen. By most standards, it’s a first rate, provocative and challenging film. But it’s one I didn’t really enjoy and although I'm assured that repeated viewings open up new revalations and make it a better experience, I'm in no real hurry to watch again.

DAVID FLINT

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