Monday, January 30, 2012

Book vs. Film: The Woman

(For my prior review of the novel, click here.)

Since author Jack Ketchum and director Lucky McKee collaborated on both the book and the screenplay, the literary and cinematic versions of The Woman form virtual mirror images of each other in terms of plot.  A comparison has to be made, then, along other lines, such as:

The roles in the film are masterfully cast.  Baby-faced Sean Bridgers (Johnny Burns on HBO's Deadwood) has a gleam in his eyes that makes him a perfect Christopher Cleek--a control-freak losing the battle against his own burgeoning insanity.  Angela Bettis, blessed with such a wonderfully emotive face, shines as the haggard housewife Belle.  But the real star here is Polly McIntosh as the titular cannibal.  She stunningly embodies Ketchum's character, brimming menace with baleful glares and growls rather than lines of dialogue.  Like some feral femme fatale, McIntosh manages to be grotesque and sexy at the same time.

The Woman is no doubt a vivid figure, but a decided advantage of the book is that it is able to bring readers inside her head (via italicized chapters presented through her viewpoint).  Accordingly, the film struggles to convey a sense of the Woman's spiritualist beliefs; a surreal opening sequence proves more confusing than effective.

My major complaint with the movie version is its soundtrack.  Simply put, the music is too obtrusive.  Even when the song lyrics are thematically appropriate, they compromise the gritty realism of the scenes, distracting viewers by forcibly reminding them that they are observing artifice.  A softer, more subtle touch would have worked much better here.

Both the book and the film should be commended for their commitment to storytelling, for their willingness to take time to unfold--to build character and situation through the steady accretion of scenes.  The film in particular makes repeated and pointed use of the gradual fadeout.

On the other hand, the film could have devoted some more time to explaining about anophthalmia (a birth defect involving orb-less eye sockets).  Still, the climactic appearance of the animalistic Cleek child does not disappoint.  The scene of Miss Raton's massacre by this dehumanized creature is perfectly horrifying to behold.

In the cinematic version of The Woman, there is no linkage to the other cannibal narratives in the series (a continuity that could quickly and easily established through flashback).  Indeed, viewers unfamiliar with Offspring would have no idea that The Woman follows directly from events at the conclusion of the prior film.  The novel form of the The Woman sounds a key theme that is absent from the film: the female cannibal's loss of her "family" (which she manages to reconstitute at narrative's end with her impromptu adoption of the surviving Cleek children).

Both the book and the film are enjoyable works of horror, but only the novel delves into the savage conscience of its anti-heroine.  That's why, using the 10-point-divvy system, I give this final ranking:

Book: 6
                      Film: 4

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