Spoiler Warning: The Woman (2011)
Trigger Warning: Discussion of misogyny, abuse, violence, pedophilia, incest, rape, and ableism. The movie contains all these things, as well as extreme gore in places.
Image from IMDB.com.
First, a bit of background: The Woman came out in 2011, written by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee, and directed by Lucky McKee. There was apparently a book version released simultaneously, which I have not read (IMDB). According to Wikipedia, this movie is a sequel to another Jack Ketchum movie, called The Offspring. I have not seen that movie, although I plan to in the future, and this movie never references it (or if it does, it is not explicit). However, the actress who plays The Woman, Pollyanna McIntosh, was in The Offspring as a character with the same name. The Woman was shown at the Sundance film festival, according to the movie’s site. (A warning: the site contains pictures from the movie).
As I said in my introductory post, there are a lot of different kinds of horror movies. This movie falls into one of two categories: either “revenge flick” or “torture flick”. Were I inclined to be gracious, I would say they might have intended it to be a revenge flick, perhaps even with a feminist bent–but if that is what they were attempting, they did not succeed. Instead, I classify it as a torture flick, because less than a third of the movie is focused on the revenge. The first death of the film is not vengeance based. The second is motivated by vengeance and self-defense from the point of view of the character, but not the audience–and in this case, it’s the audience’s viewpoint that matters.
The movie begins by introducing us to “The Woman”, who appears to be semi-feral (if she is supposed to be genuinely feral, as their website describes her, they did a very poor job, as she wears clothes, has a knife, and walks on two legs, unlike feral children in the case studies I have seen). We are then introduced to an All American Family with whom something is clearly off. This is where the abuse comes in, although it is not made explicit until later. The two older children and mother seem guarded and dead-eyed, while the father gives off a very controlling aura despite the friendly face he shows. Credit where it’s due: the acting in this movie is pretty good. That’s part of what makes it so disturbing.
We move past the facade pretty quickly, though, when the father, played by Sean Bridgers, sees the Woman while he’s out hunting. He uses the sight on his gun to spy on her while she’s bathing. To be honest, I was too disturbed by the fact that he was pointing a gun at her to really notice the level of objectification, but she was clearly supposed to be sexually appealing. The man then has his family clean up the cellar, captures the Woman, and locks her up. Most of the rest of the movie is taken up by other scenes of torture and abuse, as the man and his family (under his direction) attempt to “civilize” the Woman, as well as by scenes of the older daughter, Peggy (played by Lauren Ashley Carter), and the son, Brian (Zach Rand), at school.
It becomes clear that the teenage daughter and her mother, Belle (Angela Bettis), have suffered thoroughly from the emotional and physical abuse. The daughter is also pregnant, presumably by her father (this is later effectively confirmed, although the father never admits to it). The boy, on the other hand, is on the fast track to becoming his father.
There is one more daughter, Darlin’, played by Shyla Molhusen. She is the only one who appears relatively unaffected by her father, although her perception of what is okay is certainly skewed. She tries to be nice to the Woman, although she doesn’t really understand what is going on. The teenage daughter actively helps the Woman, stopping her father when he power washes the dirt off her and stopping her brother when he sexually assaults her (this happens after the brother sees the father raping the Woman). Belle, on the other hand, can’t bring herself to stop her husband. She does try to bring argue with him a few times, and for her trouble she gets slapped. As far as the Woman is concerned, though, the wife is complicit in her husband’s crimes.
The vengeance portion of the movie begins shortly after Belle finally stands up to her husband: after discovering that her son sexually assaulted their captive, and that her husband approves of this, she says she will leave and take the girls with her. Her husband knocks her out just in time for Peggy’s teacher to arrive and explain that the girl is pregnant.
Naturally, things do not go well for the teacher. The man and his son beat her and drag her into the yard, where the man launches into a speech about how all women are animals before taking the teacher to the barn to feed to the dogs. The teenage daughter takes this opportunity to free the Woman, perhaps in the hopes that she will kill her father. (The Woman gets to Belle first, as she has just woken up and come out to help Peggy, and kills her in a very gruesome manner which I shall refrain from describing here. You’re welcome.)
The teacher, meanwhile, is devoured by the dogs–and by the newly revealed third sister, who is named Socket (Alexa Marcigliano). Socket has anopthalmia (the absence of one or both eyes–I believe it was both in this case, but I didn’t get a good look), and appears to have been raised by the dogs (she actually does go naked and walk on all fours).
The Woman then goes after the father and son. The son gets a violent but not terribly gruesome death–presumably the filmmakers thought that, given his age, that would be going a little too far–while the father gets an incredibly gruesome and bloody death which, again, I will not describe.
This leaves us with the Woman, Socket, Peggy, and Darlin’. Socket follows the Woman as they head for the house, where Peggy and Darlin’ are outside, about to make a break for it. Peggy hangs back, but Darlin’ happily goes over to say hello…and is offered a taste of blood. She accepts it, and follows the woman and Socket into the woods. Peggy, who refused the blood, reluctantly follows also.
Here is where a big part of the issue lies. While the man who claims that women are animals and should live and be treated as such is the villain of the piece, the rest of the film pretty effectively backs his thesis for him. There is one woman who acts “like an animal” without any outside influence and one who grows up to act like a dog. Peg and the little girl, the only other surviving female characters, go to live with them. Every major female character in the film ends up either dead or living in what the movie appears to define as an animalistic manner. The abusive father may get killed, but the movie certainly seems to be backing his ideas.
Furthermore, if this movie is meant as a revenge flick, then Belle’s death would appear to be a vengeance killing. Part of the point of a revenge flick is the joy of watching perpetrators get what’s coming to them–but Belle was a victim. An accomplice, perhaps, but this was only as a result of her victimhood. For the character to kill her is understandable, but for the movie to punish her for not standing up to her husband soon enough is victim blaming.
So then, this is a torture flick, as I said earlier. That leaves us with a couple of questions, both with potentially disturbing answers: why do people make torture flicks, and why do people watch them? Let me be clear: I am not saying torture flicks are inherently bad (whether I think that or not is not relevant to the question, although it will obviously affect the answers I come up with). Nor do I think that watching them makes you a bad person. There are many reasons why a person would watch and enjoy a movie such as this, just as there are many ways one might interpret it. I think, however, that one should examine why they enjoy this movie, if they do, as well as what messages the movie is sending. Because here are the messages that I got, and I did not like them:
- The torture of women is a good source of entertainment.
- This entertainment can be justified as long as the women get their own back in the end.
- If an abused woman does not stop her abusive husband from abusing her and others quickly enough, she is (at least almost) as guilty as he is.
- Women are animals, but this is not exactly a bad thing, because they are sexy (the Woman). Little girls (Darlin’) are also animals, but they are sweet and innocent and mysterious and will grow up to be sexy. Although women can become “civilized”, they remain animals beneath the surface (Peg), except when they fail to fight those who abuse and “civilize” them (Belle). Then they are beyond help.
Again, different people will get different messages. Some of these things seemed more intentional than others to me, but all of them seemed to be supported by the movie. I hope that it is obvious why these messages are not okay. I do not believe, however, that the answers to “why do people make these movies” and “why do people watch them” are as simple as “because they hate women” (or whoever is being tortured in the movie). That is something which I will examine at the end of this series.