Director Lucky McKee brings Pollyanna McIntosh's wild river native from Offspring back to the big screen in The Woman
This Halloween is pretty lean in terms of new theatrical fare for horror fans to partake in. Thankfully, there is director Lucky McKee's latest offering The Woman, an original tale co-written by famed author Jack Ketchum. Together, they have conjured one of the funniest, most shocking thrillers of the year. And it's a must see for any lover of the genre.
Pollyanna McIntosh stars as the lone survivor of a sadistic cult, left to roam the wilds on her own. When a country lawyer (Sean Bridgers) captures her and chains her in a shed, the results are nothing short of gut wrenching, and often times, very hilarious. Its this fine mix of themes and tone that make The Woman a gleefully grungy can't-miss Halloween endeavor.
We recently caught up with co-writer and director Lucky McKee to chat about The Woman and her wicked ways. Here is our conversation.
I didn't realize that The Woman is considered a sequel to the 2009 horror film Offspring...
Lucky McKee: It is a sequel. That is how I got this gig. They brought me up, and they said, "Look at what Pollyanna McIntosh has done in this film. We think she has created a special character here. Do you have any ideas on how we can continue on with this?" I said, "yeah. But you have to let me make my kind of movie, with my kind of tone." They went for it. It is directly linked to that film. Its not necessary to watch Offspring before you watch this. I think its actually more interesting to watch Offspring after you've seen The Woman.
Well, that's what I am going to have to do. Because I didn't know about Offsrping until just this second.
Lucky McKee: They are very different films. We knew, at the beginning of this one, that we wanted to make a stand-alone film. We didn't want people to see it sitting on the shelf, and it's called Offspring 2. "Well, then, I don't want to rent that because I haven't seen the first one yet." We did that intentionally.
That's the thing. The Woman stands on its own so well, I was shocked to hear there was a prequel. I was quite captivated by this story...
Lucky McKee: Well, thank you.
I've heard The Woman called anti-feministic in nature. I didn't read it that way at all. What is your opinion on some of the criticism aimed at the film?
Lucky McKee: I don't read books about feminism, and then go write a script. I love women, I admire them, and I respect them. I want to show them in many different lights. This just happens to be a really dark story about abuse. I wanted to show this as a freak of nature. Some people can handle it, some people can't. (Laughs) I'd rather people totally hate my movie than be in the middle of the road on it. I want them to love it or hate it.
Do you think some people are reading it the wrong way?
Lucky McKee: I don't think so. The majority of the people aren't reading it the wrong way. There are always going to be a few people that get off on something, and they don't understand it. I have seen this movie with an audience, and I hear howling laughter. I think, "Wow, these people are crazy!" You know? I never expected it to have that type of reaction. A lot of that laughter is coming from discomfort. It comes from the absurdity of the film. Its not that people are so sick, they think its funny when people are raped and tortured.
So many people wanted to compare J.J. Abrams' work on Super 8 to the early films of Steven Spielberg. But I think the family dynamic here captures that essence and spirit way better than Super 8 did. It reminds me of the humor derived from the family in Poltergeist...
Lucky McKee: I have never heard anyone compare this movie to Poltergeist. That is interesting. I loved Tobe Hooper's film. I am not super well versed in it. I only watched it a couple of times when I was growing up. I'd say my biggest influence was Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. Which is also about taking this pristine, glossy Americana, and showing the rot underneath it. That was a huge influence. And then there are the notorious films. Straw Dogs is a favorite notorious film of mine. Peeping Tom. A Clockwork Orange. All of those films. They have their questionable elements, but, man, are they conversation starters, or what? It's great the kind of conversations making this stuff sparks in people.
It's the family element that reminds me of Poltergeist more than anything. The quiet chaos. This family seems captivating to me on its own, even without the wild woman thrown into the mix, and chained up in the shed...
Lucky McKee: Well, good! You want that with all of your characters. You want them to feel like real people. Individuals that you are either repulsed by, or pulled in by. Some people have talked about the family dynamic in The Shining. I steal from the great ones, you know? (Laughs)
In talking about influences, Zach Rand is a dead ringer for the young Matthew Laborteaux, who played Albert on Little House on the Prairie. Is that intentional?
Lucky McKee: I haven't watched Little House on the Prairie since I was a little kid. I can't even remember what that kid looked like. That is hilarious.
I thought maybe you were referencing the rape episode of Little House, where Albert's girlfriend is attacked by this guy in a creepy white mask...
Lucky McKee: Wow, no...I don't even know what that is. Maybe I will look into that, I guess...I don't know if I will ever watch that...
I thought maybe Zach was related to Matthew Laborteaux. He starred in a Wes Craven movie back in the 80s...Deadly Friend....
Lucky McKee: I don't know who that is. I will have to look him up. Zach Rand is such a good actor, though.
Watching Zach in The Woman, it feels like you leaped into a time machine, grabbed Matthew, and brought him back here to make this movie...
Lucky McKee: He does look like he is from another time period. I have that chin down, eyes staring forward, Stanley Kubrick shot of him many times in the film. He definitely felt like a kid that could have been in a Stanley Kubrick film to me. I didn't know anything about Little House on the Prairie. I will go back and research it. If I see some sort of connection, I am going to start claiming that is what I did. (Laughs)
Late in the run of that series, Michael Landon directed a horror episode. He pulled a lot of influences from Italian Giallo films. I only ever saw that as a kid, and the imagery really stuck with him. It was horrifying at eight years old...
Lucky McKee: Maybe what struck so many people is that it's Little House on the Prairie. Something really dark is happening. That is one of my main intentions with this movie. I wanted to give it that Norman Rockwell veneer. We carry underneath that, what it's really like behind closed doors. The family that you might see at the BBQ, and think, "Wow! They are so great." They are so great on the surface. But the audience gets to go spend time with these people at home. And they discover, "Holy shit!" These people are messed up!
I didn't get to see the movie with an audience. How do lines like "I'm going to be late for my next period." Play to a crowd. I'd have to imagine there would be a lot of vocal response to some of the stuff seen and heard here...
Lucky McKee: (Laughs) You are the first person that has even noticed that particular line. I'm so glad you noticed. That line obviously has more than one meaning. You know? But no one has ever reacted to that line. I am glad you brought that up.
In terms of recent movies, this reminds me of Shaun of the Dead, in that there are so many things going on in the background, and in the small details. There is so much to be missed that first time through, and it pretty much demands encore viewings...
Lucky McKee: That is the intention, always. A lot of people have complained that the movie never explains itself well enough. I'm like, "Well, if you go back and watch it again..." They think, "Oh, ha-ha, you are just trying to get me to buy your movie..." No, go back and watch it again. All of the exposition is there. Even stuff that seems like it comes out of the blue, especially in those last ten minutes. You're like, "What the fuck? Where did that come from?" It is disorienting the way it plays out. But if you go back, its right there the whole time. Its just not overt.
I don't want to give away anything that happens in those final ten minutes, but there is something that really caught me off guard. My girlfriend noticed it immediately. I will say, I didn't realize there was another unaccounted for sibling. Even though it is, as you say, alluded to many times before we reach the climax.
Lucky McKee: There is a surprise at the end of the movie, for sure. But if you go back and watch everything leading up to that point, all of the evidence is there.
I picked up on the line about the dogs, which doesn't quite make sense at the time. But I missed the whole family arch in terms of that scene. My girlfriend knew it. She saw, or heard the truth about what was going on. But it went right over my head...
Lucky McKee: Yeah. That comes up in dialogue. The dad even says, "You and your idiot sisters." You are thinking, "Wait a second. Wouldn't she just have 'one' little sister? Why is he speaking in plurals?" It's all in there. That's what makes it fun. That makes it fun for me to watch over and over again. The movie has been designed to disorient you. Of course you know there is this woman chained up in there. You know she is going to get out, and that she is going to fuck some shit up. You know, before you see the movie, that this is going to happen. I had to throw in a monkey wrench, and give another reason why this family is so fucked up. This isn't just one instance. It has been going on their entire lifetime.
(***End of Spoiler***)
Sean Bridgers, from Dead Wood, is great as the dad. I'm sure you've heard this a lot, but I couldn't help but feel he was playing Will Ferrell. The two guys could be brothers.
Lucky McKee: So many people have said the Will Ferrell thing. I never picked up on that when we were on set. I thought, maybe, he was channeling Jimmy Stewart. Maybe from the Vertigo era. What I was trying to get him to do was bring this Jimmy Stewart, Shadow of a Doubt vibe, especially when he gets excited. When the character starts yelling, his voice just changes. You study a film like Vertigo so much, it becomes a part of your system. But, yeah, the Will Ferrell thing? That is good. That is a person that people love, and find humorous. To see someone that reminds you of one of our big funny men...That just makes it that more affective. You know? Its like a bonus thing that happened.
I'm surprises that was never acknowledged on set. There are instances in the film where he's doing Will Ferrell better than Will Ferrell. Someone needs to put both of them in a film as brothers.
I've seen Sean in quite a few things before this, and that connection never crossed my mind...
Lucky McKee: Yeah, that's awesome. Its probably because he doesn't have a big, scraggly redneck beard here. He always plays Southern characters. He is so good at that kind of character. I was happy to take him into this clean-cut, lawyer, father sort of character. That was so much fun.
He was on Raising Hope the other night...
Lucky McKee: He told me about that. It sounds pretty hilarious. I know what they had him do on there. I won't spoil it.
It was funny. Because my girlfriend hated him in your movie...
Lucky McKee: Well, that's because he's not a nice character...
No, I mean, she loved to hate him sort of thing...Then he comes on Raising Hope, and she's like, "I cannot get rid of this man!"
Lucky McKee: He works a lot. He's good. There is a reason for it. You will see his face popping up more and more. I put him in this so that people will get more used to him playing all kinds of different characters. He is so talented, and he is really funny.
Maybe I read this wrong, but the credits at the end of the movie seem to indicate that both you and Jack Ketchum wrote the novel. What kind of misconception is there, as I keep seeing only Ketchum's name referenced in terms of the story when The Woman is being publicized in other mediums...
Lucky McKee: We wrote both together, the script and the book. We wrote the script first, then we did the book, and then we went back and rewrote the script before we made the film. People are used to seeing, "A novel by Jack Ketchum." They have never seen a novel by Lucky McKee. I understand the confusion. But we did it together. The book and the screenplay are the same story. They follow each other very closely. Jack Ketchum obviously has more experience in the literary world. And I have more experience in the cinema world. So the movie is my vision of the story, and the book is Jack Ketchum's vision of the story. But we did it all together. He was on set the entire time we shot. He was really helpful when I had to do some rewriting on the spot. It was great to have him around. He is a sharp dude. And he hates it when I call him, "Dude." So, I am going to call him dude.
What was the actual collaboration experience like? How did you two work together?
Lucky McKee: It was really cool the way we did this. He lives in New York, and I live in the middle of nowhere, in Oklahoma. We got on instant messenger and typed back and forth. It started with an email. We banged out the story just by talking, and having that instant messenger. From there, I had a transcript. I turned that into script pages. I showed those to him. He would give me notes. I would work on that. It was a cool experience, and a cool way to write. We were both in our comfort areas. We were where we usually write. I just happened to have this other voice coming from my computer.
But with Offspring, he wrote that solely on his own...
Lucky McKee: Yeah, there were two of these novels previous to this. Offseason, and Offspring. They couldn't get the rights to Offseason, so they said, "Fuck it, we'll just make Offspring as a stand alone movie." They went off, and Jack Ketchum wrote the screenplay for Offspring. They were happy with what Pollyanna McIntosh had done. They wanted to know if I could come up with a way to continue her adventures. That turned into The Woman.
The movie very heavily points a finger at the dad, alluding to the fact that he is the father of his daughter's baby. That question is never answered. Do we get more of a definite answer in the book?
Lucky McKee: Him being the father? Watch the movie again. The answer is there. It is very apparent what happened.
You're not going to tell me what I missed?
Lucky McKee: What's the fun in that?
How closely do I have to watch the movie for an answer? Even though I missed the sibling bit, I was paying pretty close attention to what was going on...
Lucky McKee: When you watch it a second time, you'll go, "Oh, shit! Obviously!" You'll know if it was her dad, or if it was her brother, or if it was the boy in the pool at the beginning. Its all there, and very obvious.
Now I have to go watch the movie again right now. I love how you've made this movie that absolutely demands a second viewing.
Lucky McKee: That's what makes it so much fun. You need to watch it with a crowd. It's a kick to watch it with an audience. To see them lose their mind. At first, they're like, "Oh, this isn't so bad." Then it starts to steamroll. And they are like, "Oh, shit!"
There are some really interesting musical choices made in the editing of the film. Stuff I wouldn't expect to hear in this type of movie...
Lucky McKee: Oh, good. The vinyl is coming out on the 14th, with the film's release. We are really excited about that, because the music is spectacular. It adds to the story, its in dialogue with the story. It's in synch with the story emotionally. I am really proud of the work that Sean Spillane did. It's interesting to watch the movie, and then to go back and listen to the soundtrack on its own. It reruns a lot of images in your head, but at the same time, you can appreciate it on its own. Not only did we make a really cool film, in my opinion, we also have this badass score, and this really cool book. People can look at the story from different angles. There are a lot of different mediums, which is really cool. I am so excited about it. It's a cool experience.
Is the book out yet?
Lucky McKee: Yes, There are soft cover versions, and hard cover special editions, all of them easy to track down. The book is a real quick read. And there is a bonus section that gives you one possibility as to what happened with the girls when they walked off at the end. There is some really cool bonus stuff in there.
Do you think you and Jack Ketchum will continue the story of The Woman?
Lucky McKee: Yeah. Its possible. We want to see how it does once it gets out there. I know how people are reacting to it everywhere but the United States. We have only shown it in the states in a handful of places, and these have been mostly genre related screenings. I want to see how it's taken in by America as a whole. I don't think it will be the next movie I make. Maybe it will be the one after the next one. And, there has to be an interesting direction for this story to go. Its got to be something that is as different as The Woman is from Offspring. It needs to be a change in tone, and direction, and emotion. Or it will be boring. I don't want to repeat what has been done.
Do you keep the Pollyanna character?
Lucky McKee: Yeah, absolutely. She is the spine of the whole thing. You have to keep her.
What is your take on Offspring? Is this a movie I need to run out and get right now?
Lucky McKee: Its cool. It's a totally different thing. If you are a real student of horror films, and you have watched some of the 70s Grindhouse stuff, you might dig it. It wasn't very well received when it came out. People are looking at it in context of The Woman now, and they are looking at it with different eyes. It's definitely interesting, but it's a different vibe. Different musical style, different lighting style...They are just different from each other. The thing that unifies them is Pollyanna McIntosh. That is reason enough to take 80 minutes to watch it.