Film

It's 'Twin Peaks' Meets 'Nell'...Only Nastier!: 'The Woman'

(S)omething of a masterpiece - a weird work of art, but a surreality to celebrate none the less.


The Woman

Director: Lucky McKee
Cast: Angela Bettis, Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Zach Rand, Lauren Ashley Carter, Carlee Baker
Rated: R
Studio: Bloody Disgusting
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-10-14 (General release)
UK date: 2011-10-14 (General release)
Website

When you hear the set up, you cringe slightly. Decades of obsessing on horror films and exploitation efforts predetermine the path this proposed fright flick will take. As far as your encoded proclivities dictate, the villain will be vanquished, but only after traversing a narrative that will offer up sick, seedy schlock inside a more or less misogynist mindset. There will be rape, torture, and above all, revenge - and gallons of gory blood will flow. Well, The Woman does indeed follow a plotline of least resistance. It does introduce a disturbing concept and then sees it through toward its destined logical ends. But then it goes bugnuts insane, approaching the material in such a unique and unhinged manner that the results become something of a masterpiece - a weird work of art, but a surreality to celebrate none the less.

The title terror in this case is a feral female (Pollyanna McIntosh) who apparently is the sole surviving member of a flesh eating clan (many consider this film to be a sequel of sorts to another splatter scarefest entitled Offspring). Living deep in the woods, she is completely uncivilized and undomesticated. Enter creepy lawyer Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), an absolute control freak who runs his household like a gulag and turns his own family into a collection of undiscovered dysfunctions. He enjoys hunting, and one day comes across the lost lady bathing in the river. Deciding that she needs to be taken in and "trained," he cleans out his cellar. Then he sets up a trap and waits for the right opportunity to spring it.

Eventually, the "Woman" is introduced to the rest of Cleeks - smarmy, sexually curious son Brian (Zach Rand), scared and severely depressed daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), and meek, subjugated wife Belle (Angela Bettis). Per Dad's instructions, she is to be cared for and 'cultured," taught how to behave like a proper human being. Of course, the wild child has no desire to be anything other than a destructive cannibal. However, as her situation grows more and more shocking, she befriends the other females and plots to payback Chris for all those hard, harmful lessons and late night "experiments" upon her person. As violence finally erupts, no one is prepared for the truth behind the Cleek's isolated life...including what they are keeping with the other 'animals' out in the barn.

If you're looking for clear cut answers to amazingly vile issues, don't count on The Woman for clarification. It's Dogtooth for the direct to DVD crowd. This is a movie made up of inferences and allusions, not explanations or outright claims. More a peek inside the seemingly sick Cleek family than a film about the rape and retaliation of the title character, we spend so much time watching the weird, wounded looks on the faces of this oddball family that we just know something sinister is going on beneath the surface. Yet instead of showing us the truth, instead of talking about incest, abuse, and other awful secrets, director Lucky McKee suggests. He never spells things out but simply leaves out the pile of letters and lets us put two and two together. As with the unseen creature just beneath the surface, our sullied imagination can concoct some pretty frightening stuff.

One is instantly reminded of another concrete classic - David Lynch's dizzying Twin Peaks - while watching The Woman. There is the same skewed tone, the same evil within the everyday dynamic. Yet McKee is not out to mimic the master. Instead, he finds his own bizarro beats to champion, choosing to take the audience on a ride it can neither prepare for nor anticipate. As the dread grows and the inevitability rises, we wonder if things can get even more unreal...and then the last twenty minutes slap us full in the face. It's almost as if the film wants us to be aware of how unconventional it really is, all while maintaining enough of a connection to some concept of reality that we are willing to stand by and watch.

The performances are uniformly excellent, especially from the core group of McIntosh, Bridgers, Bettis and Carter. We sense the feminist undertones here, the pathetic patriarchal dictator destroying his family from the inside while the women suffer...and wait. The feral female clearly represents the animalistic need to break free and rebel, to take Daddy down several significant steps in a violent revolution of role reversal perspective, and McIntosh illustrates this among the grunts and shrieks. She's 'sympathetic' to Peggy's problem and 'warns' Belle about being a better mom. As the cultured crazy, Bridgers brings just enough normalcy to keep us connected. When he goes bonkers, it makes the transformation all the more unsettling.

Yet McKee really shine here, taking charge and showing significant growth behind the lens. There are times when the use of music is so enigmatic that we lose track of where we are in the story. Then the filmmaker plays with elements like juxtaposition and jump cuts to really unnerve us. The overall experience is both scary and satiric. There are aspects of bleak, black comedy as well, moments when we can't help but laugh at the lunacy involved. After all, this is a movie where a seemingly respected member of the community keeps an animalistic woman in his cellar..and that doesn't even broach the other issues involved (or possibly involved). Thanks to the numerous questions it leaves unanswered, The Woman becomes more than sleaze or schlock. It transcends, and becomes brilliant.

So, yes, The Woman does end up an ersatz exploitation-ish excuse for entertainment where an untamed human falls under the near-fatal spell of supposed 'normals.' It offers sexual disgraces and personal perversion. But it also casts a wide conceptual berth which ends up bearing tremendous fruit. As horror films go, it's obvious and odd. We get the shivers and the necessary bloodletting along the way, but there's always more. As an amalgamation, however, a weird work of warped social commentary and genuine genius, it's stellar. You may think you know this kind of movie already. The truth is, you do...and then you really, really don't. That's what makes The Woman such a devious delight.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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