With a title like “Women Talking,” audacious actor-turned-helmer Sarah Polley’s fourth feature makes clear that it will be one of those rare films able to pass the Bechdel test. That barometer poses three seemingly easy-to-meet criteria: (1) The movie has to have at least two women in it (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man. It’s astonishing how many movies fail.

Even Polley’s film, which consists of women talking for most of its 97 minutes, is a complicated exception, since most of the conversation — an urgent meeting among the wives, mothers and daughters of an ultraconservative religious colony — concerns the men. But even then, there’s no denying that “Women Talking” is unlike any film you’ve seen before, which is exactly what you’d want from the director of 2012’s astonishingly personal, format-shattering meta-documentary “Stories We Tell.” A decade later, Polley is back with another bold thought experiment, this one inspired by a horrific conspiracy of sexual abuse discovered within a Mennonite community about a decade ago.

In that ghastly true crime, it was revealed that seven men had been drugging their neighbors with animal tranquilizer and raping them in their sleep, blaming the violations, which numbered more than 100, on supernatural forces. A few years ago, Canadian writer Miriam Toews — who had been raised in a Mennonite community — took that premise and transformed it into a novel, focused not on the crimes but the consequences. Her book reads almost like science fiction (Margaret Atwood was a fan, quoted on its cover), but finds its basis in human nature.

Self-described as “an act of female imagination,” “Women Talking” is now a major motion picture, as Hollywood hype-speak goes — though in this case, the word “major” most certainly applies: The mere existence of a movie like this is a big deal, as is the fact that so many of its creators are women, from producers Frances McDormand and Dede Gardner to writer-director Polley to the ensemble, incredible talents all, getting to act together for the first time. Most of the film takes place in a hayloft, where eight women have gathered, a makeshift council tasked with deciding how to deal with the situation. They have three choices: Do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.

That’s more options than the town elders offered them. When word of the rapes got out, young mother Mariche (Jessie Buckley) grabbed a scythe and attacked the culprits. Only then were the police called — not out of concern for the women, as one might expect, but to protect the men. Here, as in so many communities across time, the men make the rules, relying on religion as a means of social control. Why are the victims’ husbands and fathers not outraged at what’s happened? That’s not addressed. Rather, they’ve given their wives and daughters an ultimatum: The women have two days to forgive their attackers, or else leave the colony and in so doing, surrender their chance to enter the kingdom of heaven. What would you do?

These women start by taking a vote, introducing democracy into a system where, as expectant mother Ona (Rooney Mara) puts it, “your entire life, it didn’t matter what you thought.” Ona is unmarried, pregnant by one of these rapes — dehumanizing assaults that Polley has the good sense not to show, though the bruised and bloody aftermath is no less disturbing. Now that the truth is known, Ona refuses to keep her thoughts to herself. The same goes for all of the women participating in this makeshift council, from respected matriarchs Agata (Judith Ivey) and Greta (Sheila McCarthy) to their respective daughters, Salome (Claire Foy) and Mejal (Michelle McLeod). Good luck keeping them all straight.