Remember how in the Disney film Pocahontas, American war hero John Smith finds this beautiful tribal woman in the forest and offers to teach her how to be less of a savage? Well, the 2011 film The Woman is kind of similar to that, only with less love and singing, and more violence and rape.
An abusive husband and father stumbles across the last survivor of a cannibal tribe in his local hunting woods and decides to teach her the ways of the modern, civilised world. To show her how to be more sophisticated, he catches her in a big net, keeps her tied up in his cellar, shoots her, rapes her, humiliates her and beats her. If that doesn’t teach her how to be a good American Christian, what will right?!
But what makes this film different from similar titles of the same genre, is that he introduces his family to her. He wants them all to be involved in her ‘training’, his wife and his three children. This isn’t some backward hillbilly rapist story; this guy is a family man. He’s a pillar of his local community and father of three children. So for him to also be a violent psychopath is a chilling idea. And one that isn’t so unbelievable these days. The Woman is an incredible film, with standout performances from the three female leads, and it will leave you feeling uncomfortable in more ways than one. So join me as I look into what makes this film a beacon for strong, powerful women, and a warning to controlling, abusive men. If you haven’t already seen this movie, spoilers ahead.
So first of all, the cast. The title character of The Woman is played brilliantly by Pollyanna McIntosh, who you may recognise from the first film in this series, Offspring, and more recently the hugely successful TV show The Walking Dead. She also wrote and directed the upcoming standalone sequel to The Woman: Darlin, which she also stars in reprising her character of The Woman. I cannot mention enough how much I love Pollyanna. She’s a beautiful, talented actress and her role as The Woman proves that she’s also a badass. From the moment we see her in the opening scenes, walking through the woods and taking on a wolf with a hunting knife, we are hypnotized.
The transformation from beauty to savage reminds me of Charlise Theron’s role as Eileen Wuornos in Monster. You genuinely believe this woman on screen is a tribal woman, living in the woods and hunting wild animals. It may be because of my obsession with horror and kick-ass women, but I never feared The Woman, I only admired her strength and her ability to withstand the abuse given to her from the Father character. You’re on her side from the very start, and you want her to get her revenge on this pig of a man. Which she eventually does, in beautiful, chaotic style.
Next up we have the Father, Chris Cleek, portrayed by Sean Bridgers. Now I know that we’re supposed to hate the villainous characters in these types of movies, but Chris Cleek is on another level. I despise him, which must be a credit to the acting skills of Bridgers. He’s creepy and controlling, you can tell right away that his family fears him, and when we see how he treats The Woman, I found myself just waiting for his demise. The scenes where he suddenly switches from a calm, almost friendly Father figure into a violent psychopath, are chilling to watch. It’s almost like a split personality, and as the film progresses, the viewer gets to see more and more of this mans dark side. He beats his wife, he shouts at his children, he kills one of his daughter’s teachers in a…really gross way, and of course, he rapes The Woman. Every scene he is in just makes you dislike him more and more, which in my book is an excellent job done by the actor.
As for his wife Belle, played by one of my favourite ladies of horror Angela Bettis, I felt for her right away. Clearly controlled by her husband, she even lets him carry out his torturous behaviour of his captor. Belle is the polar opposite of The Woman. She’s the 1940’s impression of a model housewife; quiet, obedient and submissive. And she’s afraid of her husband—it shows just by the way she acts around him. He’s clearly been abusive to her for a long while, so when she finally does stand up to him—albeit for a fleeting moment before being knocked unconscious—I was right there with her, willing her to kick him in the balls.
Bettis was the perfect choice for this role, after her work in May and Carrie. She plays the part of the quiet, abused woman well, which doesn’t sound like a compliment but it truly is. I adore her. And the chemistry between the two actors works well, their portrayal of this toxic couple is brilliant. I think it’s an extreme version of women letting their husband’s walk all over them, and sends out the message that it doesn’t have to be that way. I approve of this message.
Then we have the children, oldest daughter Peggy, middle child Brian, and then the youngest of the three, Darlin. All of the children have their own role to play in this dark tale. Peggy is in high school and is the most resistant to her Father’s plan. You can tell that she has reached an age where she no longer agrees with everything her Father says, but she’s not quite old enough to stand up to him yet. She’s not Daddy’s little girl anymore, and he knows it. When a concerned teacher visits the Cleek home to discuss Peggy and her suspicion that she is pregnant, it dawns on the viewer that her Father may have raped her. Peggy isn’t the kind of girl to go out partying with friends, so the chances of her sleeping with another boy her age is unlikely. So not only is the Father beating his wife, he’s also been sexually abusing his daughter. What a guy. Lauren Ashely Carter who plays Peggy deserves credit for this role as she’s believable as an abused daughter, on the verge of standing up for herself. And when she helps The Woman escape at the end of the movie, she is shouting enough is enough.
Then we have Brian. Brian’s a little creep. He clearly looks up to his Father and therefore follows by his example. He secretly bullies a girl at his school, enjoys hurting animals, and after spying on his Father raping The Woman, he attacks her with pliers. We don’t see exactly what he does to her, but when Peggy stops him, calling him ‘sick’, The Woman has her shirt torn open, and one of her nipples is bleeding, maybe even missing. You’re a creepy little boy Brian. He later helps his Father torture and kill Peggy’s teacher, and ultimately meets his fate at the hands of The Woman. Finally, we have the youngest of the family, Darlin. She is still young enough to not really comprehend what is happening. She thinks Daddy is helping the lady. God bless Darlin. She survives the ordeal, and the film ends with her leaving with The Woman, Peggy, and Socket, the eyeless feral girl that had been living with the dogs in the barn.
I didn’t see that coming! I believe Socket was the eldest daughter of the Cleek family, punished by her Father for seeing too much. He locked her in the dog cage like an animal. She’s so feral by the time she is introduced to the plot. I first thought she was The Woman’s child, but on second viewing I noticed that during a verbal assault on Peggy, Chris says, “You and your stupid sisters”. So Darlin isn’t the only sister to Peggy.
All the characters in this twisted story play their parts to perfection. I’d like to also talk about some of the stand out scenes in the film that make it one to remember — starting with the finger scene. At this point, Chris Cleek has captured The Woman, and has her restrained in his cellar, ready to be taught to be civilised. He thinks he has it all planned out. Wrong. As he inspects her body like the creepiest doctor ever, she appears to be unconscious. He holds up her head and stretches her eyes open. He glances at her breasts and then inspects her mouth. Her teeth are blackened and rough, and when he decided to have a little feel around in there, we discover she’s not unconscious at all. She bites down on one of his fingers, and as he screams and pulls his hand away, we see tendons and flesh tearing like well-cooked meat. She chews the finger slowly as he looks on in horror, before spitting out his wedding ring into a pool of blood on the floor. I love the way that this scene is shot —the slow chewing, the realistic gore, the smile on The Woman’s face as she slowly munches on the finger. It really sets the viewer up for what’s to come.
Another standout scene is when Belle finally stands up to her abusive husband, and tells him she is leaving him. She says she’s taking the girls with her and that he can keep his “rapist son”. I’ve already mentioned how I adore Angela Bettis, and this scene shows why. Something about her face just works for me, and seeing her triumphantly telling the man who has abused her all these years that she is leaving is fantastic. It’s also a tense scene as we already know that this revelation probably isn’t going to do down to well with Chris. As she speaks her mind, we see her growing in confidence as she hears herself saying the words that she has longed to say for so many years. And when Chris starts to laugh, she laughs along with him. It feels like she’s laughing in relief. She’s finally stood up to him, its finally over. Of course, Chris beats her to a pulp and leaves her lying on the ground, but for that moment, Belle Cleek had won. The scene gives me goosebumps, firstly for seeing her stand up to him, and secondly because we know it won’t end well.
And then there’s the finale. The tension has been built up, Chris is completely maniacal, and he’s torturing Peggy’s teacher with Brian by his side. Belle is unconscious in the kitchen and Peggy panics. All she can think to do is what we’ve wanted her to do for the entire length of the movie; she frees The Woman. The final scenes really are a treat for the viewer, with so much happening at once. Just as we’re trying to process what’s happening in the barn with the dogs (is that ANOTHER tribal woman living in there?!) we also have the excitement of The Woman being freed at last. As the dogs bark and Socket appears to bite and kill Ms. Raton, Chris shouts a word I wasn’t familiar with, “Anophthalmia”. Upon googling, I found this was the medical term for a congenital disability in which a child is born with one or both eyes missing, which explains Socket. Is that why she was in the barn? Because she was born with a defect? God, I hate Chris. So as Socket finishes her meal, over at the cellar, The Woman has been freed and has just made light work of Belle, eating part of her face then throwing her across the yard like a doll. I was sad to see Belle die, but she did have it coming.
Then we see the ultimate. The part we’ve all been waiting for. The Woman faces her tormentors, Brian and Chris. I think the first time I watched this, I had to pause here to get comfortable, just to be sure I enjoyed it as much as possible. She slides open the barn door just as Brian is leaving, she locks eyes with Chris and then moves towards Brian, lawnmower blade at the ready. Seeing this little creep meet his maker is extremely satisfying. Then she moves onto the big bad, Chris, who is desperately trying to load this hunting rifle. She intervenes, and forces her way inside his body, just like what he did to her. Only she doesn’t enter his vagina, she enters his stomach cavity, with her fist. The gore, the look of disbelief and pain on Chris’ face, the way she effortlessly lifts his entire body off the ground, it’s enthralling. She rips out his heart, taking a bite before he collapses lifeless to the ground. Justice is served. Perfection. I also love that she leaves with the three remaining girls, to start a new tribe of women who have had enough of men’s bullshit — such a satisfying ending.
I’ve seen some negative reviews of the film online and I just don’t understand them. I’ve watched The Woman three times now, and each time I admire its harsh portrayal of an abusive relationship, the blood-soaked finale, the music and every scene that has The Woman walking in slow motion. Also, certain scenes in the film are crackling with raw, painful honesty. The script and the acting are superb and so believable it’s quite the achievement for a story that is a little far fetched. The only casting let down for me was Peggy’s teacher, Ms. Raton, who’s acting felt a little wooden. I don’t know if this was an artistic decision by the director, but she doesn’t fit in as well with the other characters I don’t feel, which is a shame, as the other female characters are all so great. But it doesn’t take away the fact that the film is excellent, and deserves much more credit than it receives. The Woman is a feminist roar, and I can’t wait to see the next part in the series.