A few weeks ago, while perusing through Shudder, I accidentally put on Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN. At the time, I was supposed to be watching a different movie and in my exhausted state of mind, mixed the two up. Having heard praises for the film within the horror community, I figured, what the hell, let me give this film a shot. In all honesty, it was probably the best decision I made that evening as THE WOMAN is one of the most powerful horror films I’ve ever seen.
I think it’s important to note that this film is not easy to digest. The film centers around the Cleek Family, who on the outside seem to be your typical everyday blue collar family. However, behind closed doors, the family, controlled by the male patriarch, harbor a horrific secret.
The main focus of this film is primarily on the father, Chris Cleek, a textbook example of a complete and total sociopath, who has decided to kidnap a feral woman found within the woods in hopes of forcing her to essentially be his (and the family’s) slave. The Woman is played extraordinarily by the incredibly talented Pollyanna McIntosh (THE WALKING DEAD) who exudes a sense of terror, strength, and femininity throughout the entirety of the film.
THE WOMAN, on the surface, is gritty and violent. The film encompasses subject matter that is tough to swallow and showcases rampant misogyny and disrespect towards women. Combine that with raw brutality directed towards the female population and I’m sure you’ve begun to wonder why I’m even defending this film.
What’s important to note is that though on the surface THE WOMAN may seem degrading and dehumanizing, in actuality it’s an incredibly pro-feminist portrayal of what women are capable of, especially once pushed to their breaking point.
The film presents the audience three different female characters: The Woman herself, Belle Cleek (the wife), and Peggy Cleek (the daughter). Each of these characters possesses different traits that in the beginning of the film would make them seem weak and submissive.However, as the story begins to unfold, and the severity of what is happening begins to take hold, each character is able to find their voice among the devastating consequences.
I think one of the reasons this film resonated with me so much is because I have dealt with abuse and I was able to see myself in these three characters. When you have been a victim of abuse, whether it’s verbal, physical, or sexual, it puts a lot of things into perspective.
I saw myself in Belle Cleek, hiding from human interactions but yearning for love from the person who barely gave it to me. I knew what it was like to feel powerless and to find validation through another human being who craved being the one in power. I’ve also been in the shoes of Peggy Cleek, though it’s something I would rather not talk about so openly, I’ve experienced the signs she exhibits. As for The Woman, she illustrates a pillar of strength and determination and I think you have to have that in order to get through abuse.
THE WOMAN is a film that showcases both the heartbreaking and horrifically painful effects of abuse as well as the strength that is needed to leave it all behind and take control of one’s life. Both those aspects of the narrative are so powerfully raw, the latter being demonstrated in such an empowering way that I found myself forgetting this film was made by a man.
I completely understand why people have issues with this movie, I can’t say in all honesty that I sat there and wasn’t affected by what was unfolding. I can’t remember a time that I hated a character more than I did with Chris Cleek. He’s a despicable, vile excuse for a man and deserved every ounce of vengeance that came his way. Then there were times when I felt a pain in my heart as certain scenes brought back memories of my own encounters with abuse.
However, as the film came to an end, there was a surge of fortitude and resolve that made the whole viewing experience worth it. These women don’t come out of the narrative unscathed, hell, one of them doesn’t even make it to the very end, but they still were able to stand their ground against male oppositions and take the consequences as they came. This isn’t a film in which the ending is wrapped up with nicely with a bow on top; no, this ending is far more devastating and satisfying.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with my views on this film, as it is quite polarizing, but if I could give a suggestion it would be to give THE WOMAN another chance. Rarely, do we ever see such power exhibited through female characters the way that it is done through this film. I agree wholeheartedly that it’s exceptionally difficult to sit and watch the abuse and degradation demonstrated by the hands of the male counterpart, but know that this film demonstrates that men cannot get away with that shit, for if they do, the consequences are grave.
This film may be a work of fiction, but what Lucky McKee has done is given women a film that shows just how authoritative and deadly they can be. In the end THE WOMAN is a perfect example of brute femininity, violent gratification, and vengeance for women scorned by the false entitlement that men believe to possess.