Director: James Watkins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciaran Hinds
In The Woman in Black, Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a recently widowed single parent. Therein lies the first glaring flaw at the centre of The Woman in Black and it is the assertion that somebody as young as Radcliffe could have a four year old son and a dead wife which for many audience members will be their largest suspension of disbelief, in a film about the supernatural. Kipps has gone to a remote village, in order to organize the papers of a recently deceased woman, in her creepy, isolated house. However the warnings of the locals and the mysterious, sudden suicides of children make Kipps consider that he perhaps should stay the night alone, at the house everybody tells him to avoid.
The Woman in Black is an old-school horror film in approach and design. This film has little to no blood and instead relies on performances, camera angles, sound and an atmosphere to generate its jolts out of the audience. The film has eerily beautiful gothic, Victorian design and is covertly commendable in the art direction and costume departments. The house itself, which lingers forebodingly on the village and film, states the case for the recognition of the artwork of this film.
At times you get the feeling that director James Watkins doesn’t quite exploit his surroundings as much as he could, however he gets good performances and constructs a credibly creepy tone. Where his direction is arguably most lacking is in is adhering to the conventions and clichés of horror movies. The more horror movies you have seen, the less scary this film is. There are many jump scares, which while admittedly well done and on occasion surprising are incredibly predictable for even a horror movie novice. The fact that the movie recycles a lot of the same tricks means that at times when it comes to the horror. The Woman in Black is a rather repetitive, clichéd experience.
As a sixteen year old who has slowly but surely built-up his horror movie viewing history, I found myself greatly appreciating the design and approach of The Woman in Black, thinking that if I had seen this film when I was ten, it would be the scariest thing I had ever seen and I probably would have had trouble sleeping. In the U.K. (Where the film has been a huge financial success) the film was modified in order to get a 12A rating (The equivalent of a PG-13) While done obviously for economic reasons, the rating has relative credence due to its lack of excessive, lingering shots of blood, nudity, language or drug use. However it is the imagery and mood of The Woman in Black that makes it scary and got it an initial U.K. age rating of 15.
While some parents may criticize or fail to understand the decision, I feel that it is not just the producers who will be thanking the BBFC for their cooperation and decision. The Woman in Black would be a great introductory horror film for a young, ten, eleven or twelve year old. The jump scares and plot would have been less predictable and the film much scarier as a result. However there are moments late into The Woman in Black (More specifically the ending scene) where despite the fact what happened, I wanted to happen and saw coming, still sent a chill down my spine due to its execution.
Watching the Woman in Black was one of the most fun cinema-going experiences I have had all year. There is a strange joy about hearing and seeing people react to a horror film and you do not get any reaction quite like it in any other kind of film. I have said this in prior reviews for horror films and I will say it again, horror films maximize the setting of the cinema like no other genre. You are in the dark, with strangers and have surround sound; only horror films (Well done horror films I must stress) exploit those circumstances to their full potential.
Walking out of The Woman in Black, the person I saw it with was crying, they claim that they were tears of confusion, over the film’s conclusion. It is seeing those sort of reactions which will keep this film in my mind throughout the year as it is those reactions, which show why going to the cinema is such a fun, exciting thing and why it will always be the ultimate place to view a film. Although in the case of The Woman in Black, a midnight, alone, headphones in experience could potentially augment the scares.
The screenplay by Jane Goldman is efficient and the story is sparse, perhaps too sparse for some, with no doubt a lot of the script resting upon the direction and performances. Speaking of the performances, Daniel Radcliffe carries the film very well. I could get over the fact that he is arguably miscast very quickly and easily and therefore accept his performance for what it was. This is by no means stretching him as an actor as most of the role is reacting rather than acting. Reacting is something that many have noted, Radcliffe grew up with on the sets of Potter and therefore this role is a good transitional one for him, as much of the role builds upon skills he has already developed and possesses.
In terms of the supporting cast, Janet McTeer is having the most fun as the psychotic ex-mother who can talk to the dead. While Ciaran Hinds plays the only ally role well. The flaws with The Woman in Black are that with many horror films it could of and should of been scarier. As mentioned earlier, The Woman in Black relies on a lot of old tricks and is never as dark as you want it to be. The film offers some emotional moments which divide me due to their lightening of a dark story however their arguable ambiguity (A statement that will only make sense to those reading it with the ending in mind) While I liked the ending, this film offers more of an emotional catharsis than the original source material does and ultimately I would have preferred a mixture of this film’s added emotional ambiguity with the book and play’s more definitely darker ending note.
While The Woman in Black may not be original, scary or dark enough for hardened horror fans and too sparse and containing Daniel Radcliffe for cynics, it is an effective, entertaining, well-made and performed horror movie for the younger, more easily scared or less genre experienced audiences. The attitude, approach and design is admirable and I really enjoyed The Woman in Black which despite not scaring me as much as it could, built up suspense, moved along at a good pace and put a big smile on my face and chill down my spine come its ending.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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