GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH LUCKY MCKEE
Filmmaker Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN, co-written with Jack Ketchum and based on their novel follows on from its predecessor OFFSPRING, directed by Andrew van den Houten and adapted by Ketchum from his second novel in the OFF SEASON series.
In THE WOMAN, lawyer Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) stumbles across the feral cannibal while hunting in the woods, and decides to take her captive. Upon his arrival home he announces to his wife, son and daughter, the seemingly perfect all-American family, of his intent to civilise The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh). While Chris has used abuse to control his family, can he tame the feral cannibal of the American wilderness?
In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, McKee reflects on how THE WOMAN relates to present day America, the influence of Dick Cheney, and his surprise at how much of the personal he expressed through the film.
FRIGHTFEST: The extras on the limited edition Blu-Ray speaks to the fact that we’re not satisfied with the story in the film, but that we want to know the story behind the story. It ties into our voyeuristic and curious natures, the act of people watching and imagining who people are when they close the door of their homes behind them. It all connects to a curiosity to go beyond what we can see.
Lucky McKee: Every person that you come across has some mystery locked inside of them, and I know I do. I can’t speak for other people, but there’s always that curiosity whether people are telling you what they really think or are being completely forthright about the type of person they are. Everyone hides things and one of my favourite things to shoot in a film is just a person by themselves - how does a person behave when it’s just them and there’s no one else, or when they don’t think there’s anyone else there?
Hitchcock has always had this ability to make the camera feel like an entity or a presence, but it’s not, it’s just him. He was very good at filming people’s private moments, and REAR WINDOW has a guy watching people that don’t know they’re being watched for the entire film. It’s very interesting just to see that behaviour in a movie, and it’s something that I’m always chasing, to try to represent on film - how people behave when they’re by themselves.
FF: The Woman is interesting because unlike the other characters, she’s not aware of the optics of how she looks to others. She transcends that level of self-awareness that can be crippling.
LM: She’s not weighed down by any of that and she doesn’t care what she looks like - she has the innocence and the purity of an animal. One thing that Polly and I talked about a lot, that was a very difficult scene to shoot was when Chris Cleek goes down into the cellar one night and has his way with her. He rapes her, but she doesn’t care. It doesn’t effect her in an emotional way like it would you or me, or anybody else, it’s just another thing that happens. Her life has been full of pain and that’s just a part of existing to her. So it was very interesting to film that rape scene, and the most uncomfortable person is the rapist. The Woman is not phased by it, and psychologically it was very interesting.
FF: If you were to have made the film now rather than nearly a decade ago, how dramatically would that alter the film we'd see?
LM: It’s interesting to look at this movie now that we’re dealing with Trump on a daily basis, and now that the MeToo movement is happening. It almost feels that this is a better time for the film to be released. There’s no way that the movie wouldn’t be different if I made it today, just because I’m a different person. I’m a dad now; I wasn’t a dad when I made it. I’m married now; I wasn’t married when I made it. I probably wouldn’t have even written the movie, and if it was something I had written back then and I had the chance to make it now, I might not want to make it - I was in a very dark and angry place when I made that film.
I’d felt that I’d had so many bad experiences working in Hollywood, and I’d removed myself from that, but there was a certain thought, ‘I don’t even know if I want to make films anymore. I’m constantly put in uncomfortable situations with people and constantly made to feel like I’m going to have to fuck someone, or fuck myself over in order to keep moving forward.’ It was just a bad situation and so I was in a very negative mindset at that time. Now I’m married, I have a kid and I’m a pretty happy guy, so the approach would be totally different because I have a different perspective, and I’m older.
FF: The passiveness of The Woman in the rape scene could be seen as a metaphor for present day America, specifically Trump’s supporters, who naively believe he’s for their interests and are passive as he exploits their political support. Would you agree?
LM: It really is, and my wife and I were talking about this only this morning. She was saying the people that support Trump are like battered wives that are trying to make any excuse for their abusive husbands: “Yeah he beats me, but he really does love me”, or, “He’s having a really hard time at work”, like it justifies it somehow.
The movie is very much about different forms of abuse, but it’s a fairy tale. They find this woman from the woods and she represents something that a lot of people don’t have - a magical creature that will break them free from their chains. There is a fantasy to that and I had women come up to me after the film that were energised or empowered by the film. It fires them up in strange ways that I didn’t expect, but yes, the movie is very much about abuse and being under the thumb of somebody who has the advantage over you. The dad is abusing all of those children in different ways, and one of the things Sean Bridgers said he was studying at the time were a lot of interviews and clips of Dick Cheney [laughs]. This was something he was pulling from and I didn’t really get it at the time, but I get it now - this sociopath thing where you’re looking at other people as if you can’t empathise or sympathise with them. Chris is a true sociopath, and he looks at people like they’re bugs or chess pieces.
FF: Art responds to its time and in particular genre has always captured a snapshot of the social anxiety of the period.
LM: I’m watching a bunch of movies from the 1930s and they’re fucking bleak man, but you’ve got to imagine what people were going through at that time. These movies seem sweet, funny and clever on the surface, but then you get underneath of what’s actually happening in the story, and you’re, “Oh my God.” A movie like THE CHAMP, a Wallace Beery movie is fucking dark man, or ONE WAY PASSAGE. People at that time were going to those movies as escapism, and maybe they didn’t see it as being quite as dark, but looking at it now, it’s pretty amazing [laughs].
FF: Sometimes hindsight allows us to understand the context of a film or life experience. What was THE WOMAN saying about the society at the outset of the last decade?
LM: At the time I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying about society or anything like that. I was just talking about how people are, how people can be and how scary that is, and I know that fascinated Jack Ketchum as well. What happened with THE WOMAN was seven or eight years later, a buddy wanted to take a look at it. I hadn’t watched it in a while, and we sat down and it was almost embarrassing to watch. I couldn’t believe how much personal stuff was in there that I didn’t realise I was expressing at the time.
I grew up in a very rural area and I never dealt with anywhere near the levels of abuse that the characters go through in the film. Everybody has been abused in one way or another, whether it’s psychologically or physically. All of us have things that scar us, and seeing all this stuff bubbling up out of the film, I didn’t realise that I was exposing something about myself. The audience don’t know that and they don’t care, well maybe some people do. In recent years the movie has changed the way I look at it in terms of what it means to me personally, and what it was actually saying about me [laughs] – it was shocking.
OFFSPRING & THE WOMAN Limited Edition Blu-Ray is available now from ARROW VIDEO.