February 13, 2012
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“The Woman in Black” is not your typical modern horror film. Instead of the conventional bloody violence modern audiences seem to be used to (“Saw,” “Final Destination,” “Friday the 13th
”), this movie runs like the traditional ghost stories you heard around the campfire as a kid. But, it pays homage in the way “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” did to the action/adventure serials of the 1920s and ‘30s- using the clichés in a new way so they feel fresh and welcome. Applying this idea to horror is this film’s greatest strength, but also its biggest weakness.
The story follows Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young attorney who lost his wife during childbirth. With only his four-year-old son Joseph (Misha Handley) to keep him going through life and being on the verge losing his job. In order to maintain it, Arthur ventures to a remote village to close the settlements on a dead widow’s estate. But Arthur starts seeing a mysterious woman wearing a black dress roaming the large and old house, and quickly learns her dark history hidden within the paperwork. Arthur and a local rich man (Ciaran Hinds) investigate the matter and discover the danger of the woman in black.
Like most movies, I have a list of pros and a list of cons. Starting with the pros: this movie has proven the traditional ghost story is timeless if handled in the right hands. Writer Jane Goldman created a very well rounded script. The script feels faithful to the old ghost stories of our childhood, and scares the eight-year-old in all of us at one point or another. Goldman also treated viewers to some fun plot twists, just don’t go in expecting a plot twist every other scene in the third act. Tim Maurice-Jones’ cinematography and Paul Ghirardani’s art direction are unbelievably creepy and might just be the best things about this film.
I was never comfortable while I was sitting through Arthur walking around the large house trying to find the source of noises. The close-ups of the many creepy dolls and the movement in the blurry background was great. The movement of the camera made Viewers fear what they would see when it turned the corner. The cinematography in this movie is the key to its Gothic tone and atmosphere. But still the question remains: can Daniel Radcliffe’s career be taken seriously and elevate from the “Harry Potter” series (2001-2011)? Once introduced to the character of Arthur Kipps, the worry was if one would see Harry Potter and not Arthur Kipps. But the whole time watching “The Woman in Black,” it was Arthur Kipps and only Arthur Kipps that I saw. Radcliffe’s performance is very subtle and very good. The character was likable and viewers wanted him to be happy. Radcliffe never over-acts and the performance comes off as very genuine. Likewise, every actor and actress did their job nicely.
Now for the cons, and this film is not perfect. For the first 30 minutes or so, “The Woman in Black” relies very heavily on jump-scares. Whenever the tension rises, or something in the background moves... BOO! A crow outside calls out from the trees. Really? When trying to get to sleep, a crow yelling outside isn’t going to keep them awake. But on the plus side, once Arthur spends his first night in the creepy house, the movie cuts the crap and finally gets serious. Sure, during the jump-scare bonanza, the movie was very creepy, but it didn’t seem to know how to scare anybody. What kept viewers going through the first half was the art direction, cinematography and the tributes to old horror films. The beginning where Arthur is traveling is very reminiscent of “Nosferatu” (1922), and there is an almost shot for shot re-creation of the scene from “Halloween” (1978) where Jamie Lee Curtis looks out her bedroom window. But after the first act or so, the movie becomes its own film, and gets good... very good.
As stated earlier, “The Woman in Black’s” traditional story might be refreshing, but for some it may be too traditional. After all of the initial real scares, the plot has to get going. One could see the plot unraveling from a mile away after the first initial real scares and just wished the film had a little more originality to offer other than an unsettled ghost who may or may not be unstable. Finally, there is a fairly large plot hole which is distracting if noticed. It may come off as a spoiler, so I will keep it minimal. There is a scene that involves letters and a picture that seems to contradict one another. It is never explained, so it feels like it might have gone over Goldman’s head. Which is a shame, because it is a fault in an overall fine script.
In the end, “The Woman in Black” is a great fun and entertaining ride which may actually frighten some people. At the screening I attended, it seemed the entire audience was getting into it and at least one scare got to somebody. I have a feeling this movie is going to gain a cult following, and even become a horror classic in some circles. Although it might rely heavily on jump scares for the first act or so, be too traditional, and feature a rather large plot hole, “The Woman in Black” does have effective scares, great Gothic art direction and cinematography, a fine cast, and is an overall fun and entertaining time at the movies. When I saw Hammer studios attached to this film, I got close to what I expected. For anybody who enjoys old-fashioned scares, “The Woman in Black” is a fun time.
Final Score 8/10 (Great)
Trailers from IMDb
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