Monday, February 20, 2012

The Woman in Black

By s. Monday, February 20, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
68/100 (95 min, 2012)
Plot: A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.
Director: James Watkins
Writers: Susan Hill (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciarán Hinds

Harry Potter and the Sullen Lady

"During afternoon tea, there's a shift in the air, a bone trembling chill that tells you she's there 
There are those who believe the whole town is cursed but the house in the marsh is by far the worst.
What she wants is unknown, but she always comes back - the spectre of darkness, the woman in black"

"The Woman in Black" went from being a novel, to being a play, to being TV movie and finally a film starring Daniel Radcliffe. 2012 version of the story is definitely the weakest one to date, but in the world where "found footage" horrors and shaky camera are what passes for horror movie, it is quite refreshing to see good old fashioned ghost story with haunted house, malicious ghost and noble hero, who is in way over his head.

Radcliffe plays a young man who lost his wife during childbirth. He has a young son, who he loves dearly - unfortunately, he also has financial problems which forces him to relocate to creepy town in order to attempt to sell property there. The problem is that ever since he arrives things do not go well - people are hostile for unknown reason, he keeps seeing weird things in the corner of his eye and finally a child dies in his arms. Soon he learns the secret - a woman, who once lost her child and now wants her revenge is haunting the townsfolk and whenever she is seen, a child dies.

The film's biggest weakness is Radcliffe - he is a miscast here, despite him trying very hard to be someone else than just Harry Potter. It's a bit too soon for that - maybe in few years if he starred in a movie liked that the effect would be better, but it's not even a year after the last part of "Harry Potter" series premiered. Radcliffe looks like a lost child, not like a grieving husband and concerned father. In the movie's many chilling scenes where he is wandering around the scary house he looks as if he was searching for one of the Horcruxes, not fighting for his own survival which he should be at that point of the story.

Another problem with "The Woman in Black" is that at times it feels a bit too modern - the costumes and set pieces are designed very well and look like straight from Victorian era - but they are ruined by little details - too much of modern CGI - like the moment when we see Woman's face screaming in the window, vibrant colours that stand out next to destroyed furniture and old toys in the house and finally sloppy make up of the Woman - I was astonished by how cheesy and not scary it was. When she is covered with her veil she looks frightening. But when we see her face, there is nothing to be scared of, especially in the last shot of the film which I found to be a huge let down.
Although the movie relies too heavily on jump scares when with loud noise, creepy violins or simply with a sudden sound something appears on screen, there are many ingenious and truly disturbing moments. The legend has it that every time the Woman is seen, a child dies. In a flashback sequence we see the children dying and her standing somewhere in the frame. That happens many times throughout the movie - something moves in the mirror, something dark is standing in the door. In certain scenes the Woman in Black is just standing there and you notice her only when she is moving. That is the technique that always scared me most effectively - without any sign, you on your own notice that something is not right with the picture you are seeing.

The cinematography of the movie is gorgeous - it is greatly aided by all the details meticulously placed in the frames - many bizarre objects, dusty curtains, old paintings, creepy photographs- all the elements you could possibly wish to appear in the ghost story. The most gorgeous part of the film is the beautiful and disturbing prologue where three young girls suddenly turn to the window, walk slowly towards it, crushing teacups with their boots and then they jump to their deaths.
The supporting cast is quite strong - this year Academy Award nominee Janet McTeer plays a woman who is falling into insanity after loss of her child. She delivers the strongest performance in the movie, although the script doesn't give her many opportunities. Ciarán Hinds plays Daily, her husband who contrary to his wife doesn't believe in local legends and superstitions, but later on finds out that they are in deed real. There are some horror cliches in the movie - particularly in the latter part of the film, where there is obligatory digging up of the body and reburial, sudden twist and your typical not-so-happy ending where after you though the curse was broken it turns out it's not even close to that.

That ending was praised in many reviews, which I found to be weird. As much as it was backed by change to the original story - where Kipps's wife was alive - it did feel like an easy way out. It almost looked like the authors didn't know how to finish the movie - so we are left with contradictions - on one hand it looks like the Woman in Black is still vengful, yet she takes pity on Kipps. The ending doesn't make any bold decisions, it simply happens and then you leave the theatre and soon the movie just fades from your mind. With stronger ending, that would not be the case.
The best horror stories leave us unsettled and disturbed. "The Woman in Black" succesfully manages to scare us during its runtime, but that's it. The movie is quite short - it's only 88 minutes without end credits and most of it takes place in the house where Kipps is chaisng shadows or running away from them. The house is indeed very scary - the floors make squishy sounds, creepy toys start moving on their own and there are lullabies suddenly starting to play in the background. But there is not enough story to back up those scenes - in the effect the film films more like a visit to haunted house than actual horror movie.

Once you overlook the plot holes you will have fun but there are way too many of them to consider "The Woman in Black" to be a great movie. Since she appears so many times, why only so few kids died? Why didn't Kipps actions work? Why was she so vengeful towards the people who weren't directly responsible for her unhappiness? The last one may of course be explained that since she is doomed to walk th Earth as a shadow for ever, without her beloved child she is simply bitter and wants revenge on whoever she can find.
Still with all its flaws, "The Woman in Black" is one of the better horrors I've seen in years. It manages to scare us and it is visually stunning. However the fact that it feels so good, because all the other horror movies are so bad is very far from being an impressive accomplishment, especially since it's based on such a wonderful source material.


  1. Not especially original and not tremendously scary, but there are a few pleasurable jolts of fear, some shiver-down-your-spine moodiness and it doesn’t overstay its welcome for too long. Nice write-up Sati.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, it was nice horror flick but nothing more.

  2. I loved your review, you have a very cool, simple way of describing things without using poshy words, and I like that. This movie sounds good to me from a visual point of view, but I don't watch Horror movies, never did, never will, they are not my type. Thanks anyway!

    1. Thank you! You don't watch horror? Not even the ones without gore like "The others"? i always loved the ambiance of those movies, they tend to have gorgeous cinematography and music and they usualyl aren't too frightening just psychological.

  3. As you know I am not a horror fan, but for some reason I really want to see this.
    Great review matey

    1. Thanks! It's definetly worth watching even only for visual side :)

  4. That's quite the title.

    However, I have no interest in this film.

    Thanks for joining the LAMB and hopefully you enjoy our community.

    1. I love LAMB community! Especially all the acting class and director chair articles, great stuff.

  5. I've been hearing so much about this film. I'll probably wait to see it at home, but I have a feeling I'll enjoy it. Thanks for the review.

    1. If you like classic ghost stories, I think you'll like it :)