The androgynously named Lucky McKee has a knack for turning seemingly ordinary situations into unexpected shockers, and often at the behest of a central female character. In 2002’s May, so sick is the eponymous goth of trying to fit in, that she takes to meticulously sewing together her own best friend – comprised of the body parts of those who have wronged her. In a similar tableau of peculiar normality, Chris Cleek’s family live under his authoritarian gaze and an unspoken fear permeates the household. Similar to May, Chris begins a pet project of his own; rehabilitating a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) he has caught in the backwoods of the family property. As the family creak under the pressure of their new addition, the bubbling tensions erupt in a sickeningly satisfying finale.
If May was a heroine styled in the image of Carrie, then The Woman is a full out feminist revolutionary. On first appearance, through the telescopic sight of Chris’s rifle, the woman appears as a hulking untamed creature. Her plentiful supply of body hair and long unclean nails rail against the usual norms of femininity, standing in stark contrast to wife Belle’s petite apron-wearing frame. The children are clearly cast from the same dye as their parental other; only son Brian’s sociopathic behavior mirrors his father’s own misogynistic tendencies, and youngest daughter Darlin’ takes great joy from mimicking the domestic duties of her mother. But it is teen outcast Peggy, with her baggy unshaped t-shirts, defiant black hair, and pale features, which are more aligned with their basement visitor than either of her parents.
Bella’s conveniently turned blind eye is brought to bear, and the household is overturned in an exhilarating final sequence. Although tempting to share The Woman‘s gratifying ending, there is certainly a case for ‘don’t let anybody tell you what it is.’ The climax might be inevitable to some, but no amount of warning will quite prepare you for the graphic final sequence. Following the Sundance premiere, a furious member of the audience questioned what value the film has ‘for any person to see’. The Woman will certainly leave you with a reaction as animalistic as her appearance, but whether that reaction is tribal will probably depend on your assigned XY chromosomes. McKee’s nihilistic horror sometimes breaks into comedic melodrama, turning horror conventions on their head once again. In a radical reading, The Woman expounds a messianic tale of emancipation; of overturning a patriarchal rule which will only fester and trickle down the bloodline to start all over again.