Mad Housewife

While She Was Out
Running time 88 minutes
Written and
directed by Susan Montford
Starring Kim Basinger, Lukas Haas

Susan Montford’s While She Was Out, from her own screenplay, based on the short story by Edward Bryant, begins as a crisis-laden contemporary Christmas story with Kim Basinger’s housewife being yelled at by her husband, just home from work, and finding the house a mess. I mean, he really yells at her, making her cower as he raises his fists and bangs them against the wall. As he mixes himself a drink, she goes downstairs to drive into town for some last-minute Christmas shopping. The sounds of Christmas carols are everywhere as she tries to find a parking space, and has to drive a short distance from the department store.

We soon learn that she has maxed out her credit card, and a casual conversation with a prosperous-seeming former high-school classmate drops her into the category of a woman who has lost her chances in life. When she gets back into the car, another car pulls up behind her, partially blocking her way out. Four hooligans looking for trouble, led by Lukas Haas, pour our of the car. They begin making lewd comments to the housewife, to which she responds with no lack of spunk, making us respect her for the first time. When a parking lot attendant orders them to move their car, an argument ensues, and the chief hooligan angrily shoots the attendant dead.

The housewife seizes the opportunity to drive away, but is quickly pursued by the hooligans because now she is the only witness to the crime. To make a long car chase short, the housewife crashes into a dead end at the edge of a forest. Realizing that she is in dire peril, she gets out of the car, takes a tool box out of the trunk and runs away into the forest, followed on foot by the hooligans.

Of course, we know that the top-billed housewife will find some way to survive the mad-dog predators. But how and with what? As the chase continues, the tool box takes on magical properties as it disgorges one deadly weapon after another even though it contains no firearms.

The action premise is undeniably ridiculous, but also very satisfying as the formerly hapless housewife turns into one “dangerous bitch” in the almost admiring words of her pursuers.

I can’t tell you any more without spoiling the ultra-feminist fun. But I promise you the spectacular ending will make every harried housewife in the world ecstatic. I found it interesting that the gifted Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro, of Pan’s Labyrinth fame, served as Ms. Montford’s executive producer, along with Don Murphy of Transformers fame.

asarris@observer.com