Too much of what passes for low-budget horror pictures these days are either pointless rip-offs of Hollywood formulas (like Adam Green’s atrocious Hatchet series) or brain-dead, grade-Z attempts at revolting the viewer without ever truly frightening you (see: The Human Centipede). The genre, once the spawning ground for directors such as Wes Craven, Joe Dante, James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola, is essentially dead.
Occasionally, though, comes a movie that pulls off exactly what a cheap, independently-produced horror film should. Filmmaker Lucky McKee, whose name makes him sound like a fun-loving leprechaun, was previously best known for 2002’s creepy May, about a lonely young woman with a most unusual hobby. But now comes The Woman, which McKee directed and co-wrote with Jack Ketchum, based on their novel. If McKee were never to make another film, this is the one they’d remember him for.
Imagine an episode of Father Knows Best in which Robert Young brought home a feral cannibal caked in mud and blood and said, “Look what I’ve got, kids!” That’s basically what the country lawyer Chris Creek (Sean Bridgers) does after he finds the eponymous monster (Pollyanna McIntosh) in the woods and shackles her inside the cellar of his home. The woman promptly bites off his ring finger, which understandably angers Chris. “That is not civilized behavior!” he yells as he pummels her unconscious.
Chris, a hunting aficionado and something of a scary dad, decides to make his new captive a family project, introducing her to his wife and his three kids and asking them all to pitch in. The plan is to civilize the savage, to “free her from her baser instincts.” But instead, her presence has the opposite effect, releasing the dysfunctional family’s barely-contained demons. Soon, the cannibal’s barbaric behavior pales in comparison to what Chris and his teenaged son are doing to her (at least the cannibal eats what she kills).
Like countless horror cheapies before it, The Woman requires you to endure some shoddy production values, clunky dialogue and embarrassingly stiff acting (although the sound design is surprisingly good). But the movie — which caused walkouts and an uproar at Sundance — rewards your endurance with an utterly insane 30-minute climax of violence, audacious gore and all-around bad behavior (how this picture got an R rating is baffling).
There are also subtexts about the ways in which men oppress women to keep them locked inside specific societal roles, but come on: You want a feminist movie, go rent Norma Rae. The Woman is the sort of horror picture designed to make you throw popcorn at the screen, groan with disgust and shriek out loud when McKee springs a shock on you. Even the DVD review screener I watched came wrapped in a barf bag labeled “Just in case.” Good times.
Cast: Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis, Carlee Baker, Zach Rand, Lauren Ashley Carter, Shyla Molhusen.
Director: Lucky McKee.
Screenwriters: Jack Ketchum, Lucky McKee. Based on their novel.
Producers: Andrew van den Houten, Robert Tonino.
A Bloody Disgusting release. Running time: 103 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, rape, extreme violence, grotesque gore, adult themes. Parents would be insane to bring young children anywhere near this movie. Plays Oct. 27-Oct. 30 in Miami-Dade only: O Cinema.