The Woman in Black (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Woman in Black (2012)

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Call me old-fashioned, but in my day ghost stories weren't told through clunky dialog and filmed through home camcorders. They were filmed on rain-swept movie sets and the clunky dialog had posh British accents, dammit! When I saw the first trailers for The Woman in Black, I dared to dream that I might finally see a return to the bygone era of horror films. The reality? Not so much.

The Woman in Black has a simple enough premise: Widowed father Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is sent to a secluded town to close the deal on an enigmatic piece of property. Naturally the house, and the surrounding town, are cursed by an evil spirit who uses her ghost-magic to kill the town's children. Admittedly it isn't the most original premise, but there's still a charm to the film. It feels not only like a nod to the Hammer films of the 60s and 70s (Hammer also produced Woman), but also to the sort of horror literature that was being written around the turn of the century. A lot of the set-up in Woman feels downright Lovecraftian.

If there's one thing the film does well, it's mood. The creeping, pervasive fog of the town adds to the feelings of dread and isolation. The skittish townsfolk and the crudely fashioned graves in the marsh add to the feeling that something bad has happened here, and that something may very well happen again. It's all very understated, but clearly there. My favorite example, by far, is Arthur's perpetual five-o-clock shadow, which speaks volumes to his depression: The opening scene where Arthur abandons his attempts at shaving, lest he slit his own throat, is probably the most powerful shot in the film.

Atmosphere is all well and good, but how are the actual scares? Well, how do you feel about pop-scares? Personally,  I think that they're a really cheap way to frighten your audience, and when the film takes upwards of an hour trying to develop an unsettling atmosphere, you can't really blame me for wanting something a bit more substantial than loud noises and ghosts jumping out of closets. That said, Woman definitely expected horror-veterans to be in the theater, and there were just as many fake-outs as actual pop-scares. It did keep me on my toes a bit more than I was expecting. Also, Woman was one of the first horror films I've actually seen in a theater in a quite a while, and even if the pop-scares were kind of weak, it was fun listening to all the teens in the audience lose their shit every time the Woman jumped out of a closet.

While things start off all nice and moody, the flaws in The Woman in Black become quite apparent around the second act. The biggest of these flaws is that the Woman's antics don't feel all that intimidating. Sure, the first couple of times that she jumps out at the audience, or sends her legion of undead, ghost kids after Daniel Radcliffe are pretty creepy, but they also get old, fast. It becomes pretty apparent that the Woman can't really do anything to Arthur besides try to frighten him to death. It also doesn't help that she only has about three different ways to scare us: Appear in a mirror, jump out of a closet, or just fly really, really towards us and then vanish. Spooky.

Right now you're probably saying "But of course Arther isn't in any danger! If he dies, then the story will be over. Of course he's going to survive until the end!" True, but the flaw is deeper than that. The film establishes fairly early on that the Woman only targets children. I'll fore-go any spoilers and just say that the lady is on a vengeance kick and really wants to stick it to the local parents by slaughtering their children. However, at no point is she either seen or heard of killing anyone over the age of 12. Nearly all ghost (and general horror) stories use foreshadowing to give the audience a glimpse at the potentially grizzly fate, and Woman is not exception. But all of the foreshadowing involves children being killed, never any adults. It doesn't take much to realize that the Woman is only interested in kids, and that Arthur isn't in any physical danger. Removing that element of danger to the protagonist, and by extension to the audience, you effectively destroy the tension. Sure, it's scary when something pops out at you, but eventually you realize that nothing's going to happen and your fear turns to annoyance.

The Woman in Black isn't without its merits, and it starts off very strong, if a little slow, and at points it really captures that classic horror feeling.. However, by the time you figure out that Arthur isn't in any real danger the film's mystery becomes less a tense thriller and more a slow slog. I really wanted it to be a great film, and it wasn't without its moments, but despite the beautiful set design and creepy premise, it left me feeling On the plus side, at no point does Daniel Radcliffe pick up a video camera, which I suppose is saying something by today's standards.

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Posted by Jacob

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  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 Jacob.

  2. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this film. I think Watkins is a talented director so I’ll definitely go see it soon. What interests me most is whether Daniel Radcliffe can foster a career after Harry Potter.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Dan and Dan O. I thought the mood and even the acting was really good, I was just hoping for some more imaginative scares.

    As for Daniel Radcliffe, at the very least I could see him having a strong future in a new series of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations. (Note: This is intended to be praise)

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