The Woman (2011)

Starring: Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis, Pollyanna McIntosh, Zach Rand, Laurel Ashley Carter, Shyla Molhusen, Carlee Baker

Directed by: Lucky McKee

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman

Lucky McKee's cute, quirky and delightfully yucky Sick Girl was one of my favourite episodes of Masters of Horror. His latest film, The Woman, is a very different and disturbing kettle of fish.

On the surface, the Cleeks are your normal, wholesome American family. Dad Chris (Sean Bridgers) is a successful small town lawyer, wife Belle (Angela Bettis) stays home baking cookies with cute baby daughter Darlin' (Shyla Molhusen), son Brian (Zach Rand) shoots hoops and teenage daughter Peg (Lauren Ashley Carter) is your typical moody emo kid.

Appearances can be deceptive.

Most people who, on discovering a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) roaming in the woods, would probably report her to the authorities. Chris, on the other hand, takes it upon himself to capture her and chain her up in his cellar, purportedly to 'civilise' her, in actual fact to torture and abuse her, then get his family to clear up the mess.

Angela Bettis in Lucky McKee's The Woman

So far so fairly nasty. But worse is to come. For, dirty, fierce and rawly sexual, the mysterious, atavistic woman becomes both a focal point and a catalyst for everything that is sick and dysfunctional about sadistic, hypocritical, manipulative Chris, his cowed, abused wife, chronically depressed elder daughter and burgeoning psycho son.

I really don't want to give away too much about this black, nail-bitingly tense, cold-hearted movie. Suffice it to say that the claustrophobic menace that pervades the first half ratchets up to almost unbearable levels, culminating in some of the most shocking and horrific scenes of violence I've ever witnessed. I never knew my jaw could drop so low.

Featuring outstanding performances from the entire cast and a chilling and ironic use of music akin to Nicolas Refn's in Drive, The Woman is a powerful, unsettling, stomach-lurchingly gripping horror film that calls into question the thin veneer of civilisation that covers primitive urges. With overtones of the nihilistic bleakness of Stuart Gordon's King of the Ants or Andrew Mason's Broken, it's certainly not for the faint-hearted. But if you like your horror films to worm into your brain as well as grab you by the guts, this is definitely worth checking out. Although if you can't get those final scenes out of your head, don't say I didn't warn you...

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