People have different beliefs, no matter how crazy or outrageous they may be, it’s their right to feel a certain way about something. However, some societal standards are taken to the extreme by some individuals whom believe that they have the power to do whatever they please. The 2011 horror, The Woman, examines those standards along with gender roles and tries to show audiences how society can effect the way that certain people view things and the way their views come off on others.
The Woman, directed and written by Lucky Mckee along with horror author, Jack Ketchum, is a study of human nature and the problem with gender roles in society. The film follows the very domineering and charismatic Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) as he takes his family on an insane journey of confinement, rape, and abuse–all because he believes is it the right way…his way.
Chris’s mind is stuck in an old-fashioned world where he believes that men have absolute power and that women are just there to serve his needs. His family walks on eggshells as they try their best to meet his expectations, essentially putting up with his mental and physical abuse. When he finds a feral woman in the woods and takes her back to his house, his family doesn’t question his intentions; they know if they stand up to him, it will only result in pain.
Once the woman is captured and tied up in the family’s shelter, Chris explains that he is going to civilize her and make her suitable for society. Treated like a dog, the woman is kept tied up, handled roughly, abused, and even raped. And things only get worse from there.
The film studies how Chris’s beliefs effect the rest of his family and the outcome is truly disturbing. His wife Belle (Angela Bettis) is completely helpless and voiceless as she watches and allows her husband to behave so horrendously. The sad thing is that in abusive relationships like the one depicted in the film, women usually reflect Belle’s actions and maintain the relationship out of fear. Her lack of action only makes matters worse and she ultimately pays for what she has done (or hasn’t) in the end.
Chris’s daughter, Peggy, distributes the same type of characteristics and behaviors as her mother and remains silent for most of the film as well. She is very reserved and keeps to herself as she struggles with her pain inside, knowing very well that she cannot confide in her mother or father. Unfortunately, her younger brother, Brian, falls in step behind his father as he watches and learns exactly how he should act.
Brian’s behaviors are terrifying because the film slowly shows us how his father’s viewpoints begin to rub off on him. The audience witnesses Brian become vindictive and sadistic as time goes by and we realize that if he isn’t taken out of the horrible situation, he is on his way to becoming the man his father is: a monster.
Although Chris’s beliefs strongly effect his wife and older children, his youngest daughter, Darlin, is still clueless as she remains innocent in her childlike world filled with imagination and optimism. No, she hasn’t completely ventured into believing the same things as her father, but we see little behaviors that indicate she very much will when she’s older.
Some may argue that the film is misogynistic and completely degrading to women but I have to disagree. The film as a whole does not display a hatred for women, it displays one person’s misogynistic view and how his views translate to others. Mckee and Ketchum showcase exactly how an abusive family behaves, or would behave, in a given situation. The Woman is actually a very strong character who can and does handle her own when given the opporunity. She remains strong even as a victim and throughout the film, she fights for herself, mentally planning her escape.
Chris Cleek appeared to be civilized and the perfect example of an outstanding citizen on the outside when on the inside, he was just as barbaric as the Woman was. His female counterparts–wife, and daughter–were submissive because he had abused them to the point where they were afraid to be anything else. The Woman, whom was uncivilized and lived by her own rules, actually turned out to be the strongest female in the film.
The movie is hard to watch at times because there are so many disturbing things occurring on the screen. It shows how every family has its monsters, some are just better at hiding them than others. Toward the end of the film we realize that the Woman isn’t the first secret the family has kept; the family’s problems range a lot further and are way more messed up than expected.
There are many things one can take away upon viewing this film. Some can’t handle the disturbing matter but it’s films like this that are the scariest, because they are so true. There are people like Chris Cleek and there are families who suffer from the same abuse that his family did. I wouldn’t say that every family has a chained up girl in their basement, but every family has their demons.
People who argue that the film is too graphic and violent must have been watching a different movie because McKee carefully displays things and only shows certain things when absolutely necessary. In order to get a feel of just how awful and psychotic Chris is, the audience needs to see him acting horribly and we need to see his nonchalant attitude towards those actions. The director perfectly built up the hatred for that character and made us pray that the Woman would escape, despite the fact that she would cause the family danger.
Yes, there were scenes of gore–it’s a horror movie–but it wasn’t to the point where it was drowning us in it. The most uncomfortable parts about the film were the realistic acts going on with the family.
As a woman, I didn’t find the film offensive at all. I found it to be brutally honest and terrifying, knowing that there are people out there with the same mindset at Chris Cleek. I don’t believe that the film showed all men as monsters, it showed one particular man who WAS a monster and how his way of thought was seeping into the minds of others.
Jack Ketchum is my favorite horror author because he has the ability to put a spin on a real-life situation and bring out all of the horrors and disturbing matter that others are too afraid to do. His mind, combined with the mind of Mckee, made for an entertaining and creepy watch.
If you’re in the mood to study an All-American family in their habitat and to see how their demons come to the surface, check out The Woman on Netflix. The film is disturbing both for its realistic matter as well as its over-the-top movie magic. Plus, you will get to see some full-frontal nudity, which totally makes up for everything else. Am I right?
Also, if you haven’t read any of Ketchum’s other work, do so NOW! His heartbreaking story, The Girl Next Door, will have you worrying about who to trust and what exactly your kids are doing in your neighborhood.