** This review contains spoilers. **
Chris Cleek is a seemingly normal family man and lawyer. His family seems perfect in every way with a loving wife, a successful son, and two obedient daughters. One day when hunting, he finds a feral, cannibalistic woman bathing in a lake. After forcing his family to prepare a space for her in the cellar, he captures her to civilize her and save her from her savage ways. His perfect facade crumbles as he "educates" the woman and the sick person inside emerges. With his perfection, the family's veneer also falls away, exposing his son's violent tendencies, his daughter's pregnancy, and his wife's complacency despite her anger and her abject horror at his actions. Who will be victorious: the savage woman or the civilized man? Who is the more monstrous?
I heard about The Woman during last year's Women in Horror Month and wasn't able to watch it until very recently. I expected to like it, but I was blown away by the film. I absolutely loved it especially because of the wonderful performances of the actors and the underlying message. Chris Cleek is a very creepy character. Gleefully sadistic, he is magnetic and repellent at the same time. He acts as the ideal patriarch of the ideal nuclear family who just happens to be insane, ruling his family with an iron fist. All the women in his life are cowed and fearful as a result of his mentality that women are inherently inferior to men, except for his youngest daughter. His wife, Belle, ignores his abuse to the detriment of her children and his daughter, Peggy, escapes into her music and books to cope with her pregnancy (most likely the product of incest). Even the women and girls seen in passing in their neighborhood are victimized and abused by men outside of the Cleek family, showing that this isn't an isolated incident. His son, Brian, on the other hand, is being groomed to be exactly like him. The process proved to be successful with his disturbing, budding serial killer behavior.
Based on this view of the family and the brutal treatment of the Woman, it's easy to just assume that it's propagating misogyny. At its core, The Woman examines women's roles in society and views women in a much more favorable light than it appears. The Woman is a strong character untouched by the influences of civilization. When faced with Chris, she is the only woman to fight back. After continued abuse and the fact that Chris wields superior weapons, the Woman backs down, but is never fully controlled. The minute she is released and catches Chris off guard, she kills him and his son brutally. This shows that misogyny and the idea of women as the weaker sex are conventions of society and not inherently true. Belle is the first person killed after she is released. Many people are upset by this because they feel sorry for her as a victim of her husband. However, I feel it was justified because she allowed her children to be abused and warped by her husband. By doing that, she is just as guilty as Chris, if not more so. She could have left with her kids or called the police long ago and she chose not to, allowing the abuse to continue for years. Also, Chris Cleek is shown to be more brutal and less civilized than the Woman, the only living member of a savage and cannibalistic tribe. His family dynamic calls into question the traditional patriarchal family unit, proving that nostalgia for the past is supporting this dynamic in reality and perpetuating abuse. The world that surrounds these characters supports misogyny as a part of everyday life, with the only exception being Peggy's math teacher, Miss Hindle. This aspect is a commentary on the atmosphere in our own society and how we are numb or blinded to the misogyny we are bombarded with every day.
The Woman is a commentary on how women are treated in our society in the present and the past. The film had a few surprising twists and turns, including showing Chris to be way more depraved than I thought, which is saying a lot. The ambiguous ending leaves just enough to the imagination and also leaves the story open for another installment. I really like this film and hope Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum work together on other projects in the future. I would recommend this to people looking for a challenging, thought provoking, and (at times) difficult to watch film.
My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins