The Woman Under The Stage Poster 2

The Woman Under the Stage (2023) Review

The Woman Under the Stage was brought to my attention by its producer Mitch McLeod, whose name may be familiar to you as the writer and director of the grim and creepy film Silhouette. This time out, he lets Ezekiel Decker (Dancing With Myself) direct from a script Decker co-wrote with Logan Rinaldi. It’s another in the long line of genre films about the theatre, and one of the stranger ones.

Intercut with the opening credits, we watch a man type furiously on an old manual typewriter. We hear the words he’s committing to paper as the lights flicker around him, they end with a reference to suicide and the line “The bell invites me.” followed by his blood splashing across the paper.

This transitions to Whitney (Jessica Dawn Willis, Trunkfish, Surviving the Cartel) reciting a monologue from Macbeth as she flashes back to her own attempted suicide. The monologue ends with a familiar line, “The bell invites me.” and the film’s title appears on the screen.

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Whitney is so fixated on becoming a successful actress that it doesn’t phase her when Terrence Durrand (Matthew Tompkins, Doom Room, The Harrowing), the director of the play she’s auditioning for, asks her almost immediately if she has a boyfriend. She also has no problems when he tells her she’ll need to live entirely at the theatre for the next two months with him and the rest of the cast and crew. I can’t imagine either of these not being red flags in the real world.

But that’s hardly the strangest thing that gets tossed at the viewer in the first few minutes of The Woman Under the Stage. Not only can’t Whitney understand why her boyfriend isn’t happy about all of this, but she also resents him for causing her to be in “thirty thousand dollars of medical debt” because he called an ambulance rather than let her bleed out from the attempted suicide we saw earlier.

Calling her unstable would be an understatement, and cinematographer Evan Burns’ (She’s Perfect, Not Me) camera work underscores that fact. Many shots have the background, and occasionally the entire shot, rendered hazy and blurred, giving the proceedings a further sense of unreality. And The Woman Under the Stage feels very unreal, even before the talk of cursed plays and strange deaths.

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But for most of the first half of the film, that’s all there is. Talk of things alleged to have happened, theatre legends of hauntings and curses. And something heard, or imagined, while drunk by a woman we know has issues. It’s not until Edgar Bently (Jonathan Lamar Egbuna, Nightmare on MLK Street, Don’t Watch The News!), who bears a striking resemblance to the play’s dead author, shows up that it begins to look more like a horror film than a drama.

With a budget of $30,000, there wasn’t much to spend on fancy visuals, but several simple effects techniques are used quite effectively. Along with the use of filters and distorted images that I mentioned earlier, The Woman Under the Stage frequently achieves the look of a nightmare. Another technique that works surprisingly well is when one character is said to have quit the production, their replacement is played by the same person with a different look, with distinctly unsettling results.

Of course, there is the question, right up until the end, as to how much, if any of it, is real. Given our heroine’s mental state, that’s a valid question, and Willis gives an excellent performance, keeping the viewer guessing up until the final scene. She and Tompkins play well off of each other, with the rest of the cast giving solid support.

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A strange film that won’t appeal to everyone, both because of its content and extremely slow burn pacing, The Woman Under the Stage does have a lot to recommend it. That will be even more true for those who like dramas as much as they do horror. Personally, I would have liked a few more scares and fewer theatrics, but I still found it to be worth watching.

ITN Distribution will release The Woman Under the Stage to VUDU on August 15th with other platforms and a physical release to follow later this year. You can check the production company’s Facebook page for more information.

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