What really scares me the most, are stories about regular people, with dark secrets. Because despite the intellectual part of my brain explaining that no, if I go out to put a letter in the mailbox, someone won’t run up and stab me to death, the phobic part of my brain still screams in terror every time I do even the most mundane of tasks outside of what I think of as my “safe zone.”
An author that excels at true crime, realistic horror, the kind that get under my skin, is the woefully under appreciated Jack Ketchum. Ketchum understands that often, the scariest stories are about something as simple as a next door neighbor, with hidden, deviant desires. Time and again, Ketchum creates all too believable characters, who do terrible things because of very human motivations, like lust or insecurity. Some of these characters turn out to just be off their rocker. Yet, they never seem like characters in a book when you read Ketchum’s words. They seem like someone you know, a man or a woman you remember wondering about after a barbecue, or similar boring function.
Which brings us to Lucky McKee, another director who excels at horror tales more often than not, just about people. He stared this trend with his first film, May (first released film at least, All Cheerleaders Die still has yet to be released…), the story of an isolated young girl whose best friend is a doll she received as a child. Things go wildly out of control for May through out the course of the film, though I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it yet. McKee is a master of the human horror tale.
Kecthum and McKee decided to collaborate on a book together, and on a film, entitled The Woman. I’ve yet to read the book, but having seen the movie, my first reaction is simply “holy fuck.” That was my first honest review of the film after seeing it, just “holy fuck.” This is not to be taken lightly, my friends. I spend my life searching for the most disturbing films ever created. I spend hours reading about horrible murders, terrible monsters, ghosts. The Woman scared me, in the sense that it was far too close to home. It attacks through its depictions of an awful father, and the pain his family has to go through.
A sense that this could be a house down the street from you, has nothing to do with the specific location the work was filmed in. It has to do with the characters we meet, and it has to do with the painstaking length McKee goes to make these people seem real. Which is why we are ultimately so shocked when near the end of the film, all Hell breaks loose.
Hate to give plot synopsis, because I hate to ruin films for people. I’d prefer you went into The Woman relatively blind. However, in the interest of having you know at least something about the plot, I’ll give you a sentence. A terrible man finds a wild woman in the woods, and attempts to civilize her. Where the film goes from there is what makes it so fascinating.
The use of framing in The Woman is masterful. This is a film that knows exactly what it’s doing. Everything is deliberate. It makes the film that much more terrifying to watch. You know that McKee wants to scare you, just look at the way he has the camera right in this or that character’s face, as something terrible is happening off screen.
The use of editing aids in making you panic. I should know, it certainly made me very anxious. I nearly had a panic attack by the end of the film.
The only aspect of the film I was on the fence about, was the choice of music. Obviously, I don’t have the same musical taste as Lucky McKee. To be fair, I rarely like much of the music I hear in any movie. Much of the songs are done by the same person, and are in a slow, acoustic style, or an indie rock kind of a style. Sometimes, the musical tracks seemed to get a little too overt. The use of score, and sound effects is great. Really, I’m just a proponent of not using songs with lyrics in films. I find they instantly take you out of a film.
Usually, what really draws me into a film is the plot. For while explosions and T n A will drag me to the theater, it is the story that will have me re-watching the film, it’s the story that will make me want to buy a poster of the movie, that will make me want to campaign for a t-shirt to be made of the film (I’m looking at you Fright Rags, make me a The Woman shirt, dammit!). It is the story that hits me on that all important emotional level. And the story of The Woman is nothing less than the story of the uglier side of humanity. It is the story of our secret desires, and of the lengths that people will go to act out these terrible ideas. So, basically, it’s your typical Ketchum theme. I’ve heard some complaining that the humor in the film feels out of place, but adding humor to something as bleak as The Woman, only adds to the story. It makes the tale into a collaborative effort between Ketchum and McKee, and since I’m a huge fan of each artist, it’s a win win for my brain.
Finally, I want to talk about Pollyanna Mcintosh. Most of the “holy fuck” of this movie, revolves around her character, and her jaw-dropping performance. She plays The Woman with equal parts feral beast, and deranged, all to human, woman. Angela Bettis does a great job as a battered house wife, and so did the rest of the cast, including Sean Bridgers as the head of the household, and Zach Rand as Brian, the son that has learned every lesson his deranged father has taught at him. Likewise, Lauren Ashley Carter plays a very convincing daughter subject to abuse. Yet, it’s Mcintosh’s Nicholson-esque, penetrating gaze that haunts you, after you’ve gone home, and are lying down in bed. She owns every minute we see her on screen as The Woman.
I look forward to more Ketchum McKee collaborations in the future, or Hell, just more Ketchum and McKee in the future. These are artists that aren’t afraid of getting a bad reputation. Artists that know that first and foremost, art is not safe. That creative expression is often a terrifying thing in the horror genre, as it always should be. So, while more movies with sensual, teenaged vampires, and more terrible remakes are sure to come, take solace in the fact that there are still film makers like McKee, who want to scare the fuck out of you.