No one, I repeat NO ONE, portrays the depravity lurking within the human soul as chillingly and effectively as Jack Ketchum. If you aren’t familiar with Ketchum’s work, go read Off Season, The Lost, Old Flames, Joyride, Broken on the Wheel of Sex, or (if you’re feeling too good about humanity) The Girl Next Door. At the risk of losing horror cred, I couldn’t finish TGND. I’m going to repeat that, I, Nathan Hamilton, the Son of Celluloid, dyed in the wool gorehound and all around sick bastard, got halfway through that book and decided to tap out. I think it was the combination of my biggest hot button, which is child abuse, with the fact that it’s based on a true story. The movie version is one of only two movies I have ever seen that I describe as “disturbing.” We’re not here to discuss that one, however. Let’s discuss the latest cinematic rendering of Ketchum’s humanistic brand of darkness, The Woman.
The Woman is a loose sequel to Offspring. While on a hunting expedition, Chris Cleek, a lawyer, discovers a female member of the feral cannibal clan introduced in Offspring living in the woods. He kidnaps her, chains her up in the cellar, and enlists the help of his family to “civilize” her. As time goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that Chris’s intentions may lie more towards torture than domestication.
This is not the first time Ketchum’s work has been adapted for the screen. Offspring, The Lost, The Girl Next Door, and Red all mined his material. The Woman is the first time Ketchum has collaborated with a filmmaker to produce a movie and book of the same story simultaneously. It is also the most successful translation of the twisted heart and slimy spirit of Ketchum’s written work onto screen yet. His books have a certain way of portraying situations in such a straightforward manner that things that would normally be unthinkable are easily accepted. Then, as the degeneracy escalates, you suddenly realize the level of debasement on display just in time for it to be taken to a new level. The movie achieves the same technique. I think this is more due to Jack Ketchum’s writing than Lucky McGee’s direction though.
Lucky has yet to really grow on me. I wasn’t nearly as blown away by May as the rest of the horror world seemed to be, and there are big problems with this one. First of all, and the most glaring to me, was the bizarre choice of soundtracks. The movie is full of post grunge soft indie rock college radio fodder by Sean Sepillane . It doesn’t fit the mood of the film at all and is actually quite distracting. It’s like they lifted the music from a bad late 90’s slacker dramedy and pasted it over a horror flick. Maybe it was meant to be “ironic.” If so, it doesn’t work at all. The music just plain drove me batshit. The cinematography ranges from a few cool shots to passable to just plain pedestrian. The “rapid fire editing whenever a ferocious attack is going on” cliché is present also.
Then there is that constant question of “how has this guy never gotten caught, and why has his family not done something about him when the opportunities are wide open?” It seems like a glaring plot hole until you realize that this dynamic happens a lot in abusive families. Still, since this dynamic is so out of the ordinary, I would have tweaked the characters and situations a bit to make it seem a little less ridiculous to the audience.
The acting is generally good across the board. I’ve seen Sean Bridger’s performance as Chris Cleek criticized for being too “over the top,” but I think he conveys the barely contained insanity lurking just below the surface of the character well. Pollyanna McIntosh is fantastic as the feral woman. I had no idea there were actual people named Pollyanna. I thought it was just a Haley Mills flick. Anyway, Tommy Nelson gives the most chilling performance of the movie as Chris’s son and monster-in-training Walter. In Offspring he was good as the heroic kid, but in the sequel he shines (as a different character) with the kind of malice only teenagers are capable of. If he didn’t have that unfortunate puberty thing going on, I would be hailing him as the genre’s next great creepy kid. The rest of the cast does a decent enough job, but they’re rather one note. This especially applies to Lauren Ashley Carter as the oldest daughter and the most sickly looking woman on earth, Angela Bettis, as the wife.
Overall, I enjoyed this film quite a lot. I believe that that had a lot more to do with the fact that it felt like a Ketchum story come to life than it actually being all that good cinematically. Jack, you are a master. Just keep on doing your thing man. Lucky McKee, well…it felt like you were just there to get the writer’s vision onto the screen. Kinda like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was a Guillermo del Toro movie rendered by Troy Nixey. Luckily, Lucky did well enough this time, so I’ll give him one more chance to really impress me before I write him off. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.
By the way, it’s also out in book form. I have yet to read it, but still have no problem confidently telling you that you should check that out too. How can I be so sure? It’s Jack F’n Ketchum. Unless it’s She Wakes (which kinda sucked) you can’t go wrong with him.