Rape, Revenge, and the Right Wing: The Woman

10/12/2011 4:00 PM |

The Woman
Directed by Lucky McKee

Lucky McKee’s gory latest lambasts conservatives; it’s also a girl-power allegory, a cheeky genre-twister, and exploitation cinema par excellence. Sean Bridgers stars as the patriarch of an ostensibly ordinary American family who abducts from the forest a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh)—who seems to be possessed by the Exorcist demon when she utters her guttural, Germanic-sounding growls—and enlists his family in civilizing her: washing off decades of grime, disinfecting and bandaging her wounds. The rape he handles by himself.

It’s the kind of story Tarantino would adore: men mistreating women, then getting their comeuppance through spectacularly graphic violence. Initially, the movie playfully reverses horror’s typical captor and captive dynamic: the nice-seeming people are the wardens; the “monster,” the detainee. There’s a joke here too about how basic care might seem, to the unfamiliar or uncomprehending, assaultive, like when you take a dog to get shots: hot water and hydrogen peroxide could be implements of torture even when used correctly.

But then some characters really do become abusive, physically and sexually, and The Woman becomes a movie about dysfunctional families and male chauvinism. (Never does the male gaze feel more aggressive than when delivered through the sights of a rifle!) That Bridgers oozes with unpretentious country charm and bears a strong resemblance to George W. Bush—at least the Will Ferrell version—suggests a slight against the right: its shallow values, its anti-feminism, its belief in imposing one’s own values on even those who would reject them. But McKee, working with screenwriter Jack Ketchum (on whose novel the movie was based), don’t let the white men get away with it. The good guys here aren’t the guys—they’re those dirty grrrls.

Opens October 14