Usually horror movies feed on our preconceptions, amplifying them in order to terrify us: Satanic children are scary. Young women who have sex deserve to be slaughtered by axe-wielding maniacs. Parasitic aliens that birth themselves by busting out of your chest are a whole lotta no fun. Bad things come from the uncivilized realms. Like here, in The Woman, in which a fine upstanding country lawyer (Sean Bridgers: Sweet Home Alabama) captures a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh: Land of the Lost)–
Wait, what? A feral woman? Right there we’ve got our horror, no? Feral as in no language, no couth, no, you know, dentistry? That can’t be good. But very quickly filmmaker Lucky McKee, working from the novel by Jack Ketchum, shows us he’s not going to let us off so easily. Our lawyer, Chris, is a brute in sheep’s clothing, a picture of propriety in public and a mildmannered tyrant at home: chaining the Woman in his barn cellar is only his latest crime, and his family — Betty Crocker wife (Angela Bettis: Bless the Child), teenaged son and daughter (Zach Rand and Lauren Ashley Carter), and wee one (Shyla Molhusen) — is so cowed by him that they don’t seem to realize anything is amiss.
If you can get past the sometimes amateurish acting — McIntosh, though, is wonderful in her unforced minimalism — you will find a film that gnaws at our notions of what’s proper and what’s improper, dredging up unexpected horrors from the most banal of ordinariness. As when Chris informs his family that they will share in the responsibility of taking care of the Woman, as if he had brought home a puppy, and they take on the chore with much the same attitude.
There is also, of course, some very disturbing and, alas, quite expected moments of man’s inhumanity to woman — none of us are that naive about how supposedly civilized people behave. There’s genuine power nevertheless in The Woman’s reversal, which brings her authentic humanity to the fore as it condemns the lack of it around her, and in its questioning of just how “civilized” our culture is.