Woman, The (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Chris (Sean Bridgers), a lawyer in the country, spies on a woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) bathing in a pond. From her appearance, he concludes that she has been living in the wild. Chris returns to his house in excitement and orders his wife (Angela Bettis) and three kids to clear out the cellar. When asked what was so urgent, the man of the house says he has a surprise for them. Sure enough, Chris manages to capture the woman and chains her to the cellar’s supports. He informs his family that it is his mission to make her more civilized. As the wife and eldest daughter, Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), look on in horror, Chris’ only son, Brian (Zach Rand), is fascinated with the idea.
“The Woman,” written by Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum, directed by the former, is an unsettling story about how a stranger, restrained and unable to communicate in English, manages to change the dynamics of a family so riddled with dark secrets. It makes for an interesting watch but it does not deliver in important ways.
Part of the allure is that the picture hints that there is something wrong with Peggy and Brian. Peggy’s math teacher (Carlee Baker) notices that her student consistently leaves class to go to the restroom, is unable to focus on classwork, and has begun to wear clothes that are much bigger for her body type–all within the past month. When she approaches Peggy, the student is very evasive of the questions so the teacher cannot help but suspect that the formerly lively teen is in trouble of some sort.
Meanwhile, Brian finds it difficult to relate with others. The only real emotion he seems to experience is relief, not even satisfaction, when he throws a basketball and scores a point. After a girl beats him at free throws during recess, out of anger, he puts gum in her hairbrush. Perhaps Peggy and Brian’s behavior has something to do with their father being physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive to Belle, his wife.
The movie is most effective when the filmmakers explores the ongoing fear in the house coupled with sporadic acts of violence. There is one very disturbing scene when Chris punches Belle in the face and stomach multiple times during an intense confrontation. While Peggy is horrified and can be seen crying on the right side of the screen, Brian remains still and just… smiles. Any child who genuinely cares about his mother tends to get upset, in the least, at the mere idea of her being struck by anyone. But not Brian. He remains in his chair as if his actually mother deserves it. The scene is frightening in itself but so is his equanimity.
I wished, however, that the family’s interactions with the woman they have taken from the wild were more interesting. Naturally, the family members are scared and they do not know how to act around her. If I were in Peggy’s shoes, our conflicted protagonist, I would have wanted to know more about the stranger. For example, I would have asked questions using pictures instead of words instead of simply giving up when conventional ways of communication do not appear to work.
With all the unhappiness simmering in the household and the moral question of keeping a woman in chains in the cellar, I was frustrated that neither the mother nor Peggy even consider calling the police because, ironically, the bound woman is their likely ticket to freedom. So, the final act feels forced. The cops are not involved because the final twist of the film depends on their absence, a twist that is not particularly shocking or worthwhile.