Wednesday, January 25, 2012


(US - 2011)

THE WOMAN earned some internet notoriety a year ago at Sundance when a member of the audience totally lost his shit and freaked out over what was happening onscreen (it's on YouTube if you care).  This was dismissed by most as a publicity stunt, but after seeing the film, if the guy was legit, I'm pretty much on his side.  Not because the content is offensive, but because the film is terrible.  The only thing I have left to ponder is whether it's a terrible horror movie or a terrible comedy.  Directed by the once-promising and now ironically-named Lucky McKee (best known for 2003's cult classic MAY), and based on a novel by McKee and extreme horror author Jack Ketchum (both co-wrote the screenplay), THE WOMAN is a semi-sequel to 2009's OFFSPRING, an adaptation of a Ketchum novel that didn't involve McKee (though McKee has a history with Ketchum: he started directing 2008's little-seen and worthwhile RED, based on a much more restrained Ketchum novel, but was relieved of his duties midway through production).  A feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh), raised by wolves and living in the wild, is captured by small-town lawyer Sean Bridgers.  Bridgers chains McIntosh in a cellar under the barn with the intent of "civilizing" her, and his family (wife Angela Bettis, and three children)...well, they just kinda go along with it.  Nobody ever really reacts to anything in THE WOMAN.  Indeed, the film does contain the most nonchalant reaction to a finger being bitten off that you're likely to see.  The more time we spend with Bridgers and the family, the more we see what an unconscionable asshole this guy really is--a bitter misogynist and control-freak psychopath, almost cartoonishly so.  But hey, whatever.  Dad brings a wild woman home, chains her up under the barn, cleans her up, loses a finger.  Everybody just kinda pulls a "Whatev's" and goes about their dysfunctional business. 

To McKee's credit, THE WOMAN does finally gets its act together for a few minutes in the climax, but it's far too late to contain the damage, and then things just go too far over-the-top.  Until then, McKee endlessly dicks around with montage after montage with completely incongruous alt-rock tunes that border on parody.  Are he and Ketchum being funny?  Is this satire?  It's hard to tell.  Bridgers' (formerly of HBO's DEADWOOD) smirking, rage-boiling-to-the-surface performance kept reminding me of Will Ferrell, which further confuses the issue as to whether or not McKee is playing this straight.  And as for The Woman herself, McIntosh gives it her all, but the film abandons her for long stretches.  Of course, it's her presence that causes the family to implode and their disturbing secrets to be revealed, but until the finale, she curiously remains a background character.  Gorehounds and fans of transgressive cinema may find something to latch on to here, but it's all so heavy-handed, tone-deaf, and utterly pointless that it's impossible to care.  (R, 103 mins)

(UK - 2011)

If transgression is what you're looking for, then the three-part British horror anthology LITTLE DEATHS is a better bet than THE WOMAN.  The first segment, "House and Home," written and directed by Sean Hogan, has an upper-class couple inviting a homeless woman to their posh residence for dinner, ostensibly out of generosity and Christian goodwill.  They clearly have something far more sinister in mind and, as you might expect, so does their guest.  The second segment, "Mutant Tool," written and directed by Andrew Parkinson, is the dead weight of the film, a grotesque, incoherent mess involving an ex-prostitute being given an experimental drug by a quack doctor that gives her a "third eye" psychic link to a man held captive in a grungy research lab, where he's intravenously fed blender-liquified human organs as two of the doc's assistants harvest psychedelic semen from his elephant trunk-sized penis.  I don't even know what I just wrote.  As should be the norm in anthology horror films, the best is saved for last, with Simon Rumley's "Bitch."  Rumley, whose RED, WHITE & BLUE was perhaps the most punch-in-the-gut shocking film I saw in 2011, is a bold, fearless filmmaker who is not afraid to take viewers into some dark, disturbing places.  We're going to hear more from this guy.  "Bitch" has a doormat boyfriend who's had just about enough of the constant head games of his manipulative, cuckolding girlfriend, who, among other indignities, brings other men home for sex when she isn't making the boyfriend wear a dog mask while she sodomizes him with a strap-on.  "Bitch" concludes with a long, brilliant sequence with the most sardonically inappropriate music imaginable, and, unlike Lucky McKee, Rumley finds the right balance between horror and sick humor.  For the adventurous viewer not easily offended, LITTLE DEATHS is 2/3 of a solid flick, but the middle segment is completely skippable.  And RED, WHITE & BLUE is still streaming on Netflix as of this writing.  It's well worth checking out, but word of warning:  like LITTLE DEATHS, it's most certainly not for everyone.  (Unrated, 95 mins)

(Spain/Mexico - 2011)

There's not much left to do with the "found footage" horror subgenre, and the makers of ATROCIOUS would seem to be setting themselves up for easy abuse by calling their movie ATROCIOUS.  So, props to writer/director Fernando Barreda Luna for making one that still manages to induce some occasional goosebumps and knows not to overstay its welcome.  At just 74 minutes, ATROCIOUS wastes no time and the twist ending is genuinely surprising and chilling.

A vacationing family--Mom, Dad, three kids aged 8 to 18, and the dog--stay at a secluded, long-abandoned Sitges home that's been in Mom's family for years.  At the edge of the property is labyrinth/hedge maze where, legend has it, years and years ago a girl named Melinda was lost in the labyrinth and never found, and now, she supposedly turns up to guide those who find themselves lost in the maze.  The locals avoid the labyrinth, but the two oldest children, Cristian (Cristian Valencia) and July (Clara Moraleda) take their digital video cameras and investigate.  They get lost and, briefly, think they see a figure standing at a distance with its back to them.  Dad gets called back home on business.  Then...things start happening.  The film purports to be the whittled-down, police evidence version of the 37 hours of footage found on Cristian's cameras.  There's a lot of shaky-cam night vision and a lot of characters yelling "Mama!" and "Cristian!" and "July!" which is to be expected in this kind of film.  But ATROCIOUS knows it's not an innovative piece of work, and Luna never lets the characters grow tiresome (another pitfall of "found footage").  And there's that ending. Not a great film, but for a largely spent subgenre, it's a pretty good one, streaming on Netflix and worth a look. (R, 74 mins)

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