VOD Review: The Woman in Black.
The Woman in Black is a largely formulaic, but surprisingly effective ghost story.
We take another look at movies starring Daniel Radcliffe this month. Director James Watkins, no stranger to horror films, finally found a break out hit with this movie, and it was the first post-Harry Potter movie for Radcliffe. The Woman in Black was a wise choice for Radcliffe, as the stately Victorian Era ghost story was a departure in tone, but not style, from his broom and sorcery films.
The Woman in Black (2012)
Arthur Kipps is a widower who is barely functioning. In fact, he’s nearly suicidal. The only thing that keeps him from falling apart is his young son, whose mother perished in child-birth. Arthur has been wallowing in depression and neglecting his duties as a junior partner in a law firm, and his boss has given him an ultimatum. Travel to Eel Marsh House and sort out a convoluted will or be fired. Up against a wall, Arthur must travel to a remote village where he discovers that Eel Marsh House is full of ghosts, literal and figurative.
A Stately Sinking Ship
The style of this film is readily familiar. It is a ghost story through and through. There is the town full of terrified peasants unwilling to talk about the haunted house. There is the stoic and slow on the uptake protagonist. There are children in dainty costumes who become the cannon fodder for the evil spirit. And there is a forbidding and isolated haunted house that is falling into itself where most of the action takes place.
This film goes about checking off tropes in the genre early and often. We get an inciting incident where three children mysteriously commit suicide, surrounded by creepy porcelain dolls. Our hero sees the shade of his dead wife in dreams, and sometimes in waking, beckoning to him. There are eerie photos with spectral images in the background. A dilapidated cemetery. A house with mysterious locked doors and a rocking chair that moves on its own. There is even a scene where ghostly footprints appear to lead our hero deeper into the blighted house. Most of the old standby’s are here and accounted for.
For all of its formula, The Woman in Black manages to still be a incredibly effective horror film. The first reason is that it has two very talented leads. Radcliffe is given very little dialogue, but as we’ve seen in Swiss Army Man, he’s very effective in using body language and facial expressions in communicating his character’s emotional state. His reticence enhances the film’s otherworldly and morbid theme. He’s aided in his endeavors by Ciarin Hinds (Rome), an excellent actor who deserves more roles than Hollywood is willing to give him. Hinds plays Sam Daily, a local big wig who is the only person willing to discuss (and visit) Eel Marsh House with Arthur. He provides the emotional release valve for the picture, as he appears often just as events are spiraling into madness.
The second reason is that Watkins keeps a steady hand on his pacing. He never lets the picture become too sedated during the exposition or too wild during its scary moments. He constantly stokes the fire, giving more frights when the pace wanes, and stopping just short of a climax when it seems that events will inevitably go out of control.
Paint it Black by Numbers
The Woman in Black is a tight little ghost story that manages to entertain and scare. The first half hour had me worried, as it feels like I was in for a stately and predictable haunting of the Henry James variety. Luckily, the film is very effective with its jump scares and has wonderful visuals. Even when you know what is coming, the reveal is structured in such a way as to get a fright out of you. It’s one of those films where every time you get startled, you swear you won’t get caught again. But you do. The final act has a double twist at the end which ends up being satisfying, when it could have easily been cliched.
The Woman in Black doesn’t break any new ground, but it does succeed in being a rock-solid ghost story, and well worth your time as it free this month on Amazon Prime.