After Room left me feeling depressed, I revisited The Woman by way of a palette cleanser; the cinematic equivalent of a Fisherman’s Friend. Administered by Leatherface.
Room and The Woman both feature Sean Bridgers as a man who keeps a woman locked in his shed. It’s slightly unfortunate typecasting but that’s between him and his agent. And probably his family. The two films approach the subject matter with radically different styles; Room is an Oscar-baiting drama, while The Woman is an extreme horror film. It’s also a vastly superior movie, both in its filmmaking and its handling of the subject.
Released in 2011, The Woman is a sort-of sequel to the movie Offspring, but it works brilliantly on its own. Made by Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum, based on their novel, the film caused walkouts at the Sundance Film Festival. Though according to McKee: “They weren’t walkouts. They were run-outs. I want to make the distinction.”
Meanwhile, I wish I’d walked out of Room, for suggesting that there’s anything remotely “uplifting” to be taken from the Josef Fritzl case, and for exploiting and romanticising real-life tragedy. The Woman never presents this material as anything other than deeply horrific.
Crucially, it’s also removed from reality; McKee gives the film a warped domestic sheen, the growing horrors met with a chilling sense of mundanity. “Do we get to keep her?” asks the son, as though she’s one of their dogs, whose constant barking invokes the soundscape of Eyes Without a Face. While Room is packaged like a sickly TV movie, The Woman resembles a sitcom about the Texas Chain Saw family.
Bridgers is outstanding as the patriarch, dementedly funny and frighteningly “normal”. His character is a lawyer, of course, and his natural response to everything is violence. The rest of the cast are great, including Lauren Ashley Carter, Angela Bettis and Zach Rand as the son who apes his father’s repugnant behaviour, while Pollyanna McIntosh gives a powerfully physical performance as the wordless woman.
Like the films of Wes Craven, the film is concerned with so-called civilised society. “That is not civilised behaviour!” Bridgers snaps at the woman, blind to the fact that he’s the one locking her in a shed. “We’re gonna help her… civilise her,” he insists, echoing countless warmongering politicians with alterior motives. This is a film about American foreign policy and neo-colonialism; domestic violence and misogyny; animal welfare and captivity. What’s Room about? It’s about two hours too long.
Audacious, critical and deeply feminist, The Woman is certainly traumatic but ultimately rewarding, with a brutally surprising ending to rival Martyrs. As for Room, all copies ought to be locked in a shed, never to be seen again.