Directed by Ezekiel Decker, who co-wrote the script with Logan Rinaldi, The Woman Under the Stage is a psychological horror film that takes us to the theater, where worlds are imagined and acted out on stage in front of a live audience. Actors are expected to have the ability to draw from real emotion to bring their characters to life. But what happens when the emotion they’re channeling to enrich their performance becomes overpowering?
The Woman Under the Stage begins with a man frantically typing ceremonious statements of an ominous, otherworldly nature while surrounded by portraits and flickering lights. “The bell invites me,” he asserts before grabbing a knife. Decker sustains the foreboding tone as the perspective shifts to Whitney (Jessica Dawn Willis), a struggling actress auditioning for the lead role in a strange and perplexing play. Her audition is intercut with gut-wrenching flashbacks of her in a vulnerable situation, imparting important information about her mental well-being.
“…every cast and crew member must stay at the theater for two months while they rehearse routinely.”
Whitney gets the part and meets with the play’s director, Terrence (Matthew Tompkins). The filmmaker finely imbues this initial meet-up with an acute uneasiness. She is slightly uncomfortable as he makes mention of her beauty and talks cryptically about the secretive nature of the production. Strangely, every cast and crew member must stay at the theater for two months while they rehearse routinely. But Whitney remains intrigued.
Being outspoken and dangerously determined to do right by the material, Terrence skillfully taps into the headspace of the actors. Speaking curtly and carrying himself assuredly, Tompkins effortlessly comes into character. But Willis is the standout, captivating with her wildly expressive eyes and impassioned delivery. Whitney will do anything to stay committed to the art, and you feel her anguish brewing beneath and perhaps even fueling her stage performance. You discern that one of these days, Whitney will break. Decker isn’t trying to deceive in that regard.
"…does art require sacrifice?"