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Movie Review: "The Woman in Black"

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You might be surprised if I told you that The Woman in Black is a theatrically released horror movie that doesn’t feature a group of high school or college kids, isn’t a found footage film, and isn’t a remake of a Japanese horror movie. Instead, it’s a somewhat refreshing haunted house movie with a main character who the writers actually bothered to develop. How about that?

The Woman in Black stars Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a lawyer who is called to work on a woman’s estate in another town who died; so that he can settle the paperwork, allowing it to be sold. The problem is, much of the town is superstitious, and believe that the home that Kipps is being sent to is inhabited by an old woman, long deceased. They also believe that when the woman is seen, she will appear and manipulate a young boy or girl in the town to commit suicide. Arthur Kipps soon learns that this is all true.

One thing that the film does to it’s advantage is showing the audience what’s going on from Arthur’s perspective at certain suspenseful moments; it’s not quite “shaky cam” style, but the camera moves slowly around a corner or into a room which adds to the intensity of some scenes. The whole thing gives you the feeling of walking through a haunted house, and at times that’s good and bad. The first few times when all is quiet and something jumps out and screams, it startles you; but after the second or third , or fourth, etc. it numbs you. What made it feel somewhat different than the nothing but jump scare horror movies that we’re usually fed is how they were done. The ones that worked were built up to, and didn’t seem so random. You knew they were coming, you were waiting for them, and sometimes they didn’t. Not knowing created the suspense. There are scenes that are genuinely creepy and don’t just rely on jump scares. For example, the house seems to be filled with creepy 1800’s wind up toys, all with murderous grins, that no sane person would be caught dead around. The issue is, other than that, there isn’t a whole lot visually that really sticks with you after the movie is over.

There’s such a thing as showing too much of an antagonist in a horror movie, and unfortunately this suffers from just that. Movies like The Blair Witch Project and The Thing work well because the antagonist is someone, or something that you either don’t see, or don’t know the true form of. You see the woman in plain view multiple times, and usually she’s either staring vacantly or shrieking. When you are able to see what the protagonist is up against clearly, it isn’t nearly as unsettling. The mystery is what creates the fear. The consequences that the people living in the town face after seeing the woman are terrible, but nothing was ever explained to justify why people actually remain living in the town after all of these years, and all of these horrible occurrences. Just stick around and keep having children, maybe she’ll stop forcing them to kill themselves eventually.

Daniel Radcliffe was good in the movie, but in my personal opinion, there really wasn’t a whole lot to judge him on. He did a fine job with what he was given, and I believe that he is definitely good enough of an actor to carry on post-Harry Potter. Arthur is enough of a likeable character to keep the story going, and that’s good enough, because it all hinges on his motivation and desire to help the people in the town. The climax fortunately doesn’t take the stereotypical turn, and instead of Arthur having to escape from the house, or fight the woman somehow; he faces the problem with other means entirely, in a much more interesting and bold manner. The other characters in the movie may as well be non-existent. They are for the most part static, and don’t seem to be there to do more than support the story and the main character.

VERDICT:

At it’s core, “The Woman in Black” is a classic, formulaic horror story given the big screen treatment. It’s a story that has the feel of something you’d tell around a campfire, or to some friends late at night. The story works well in that context, and in the time period that it’s set, but that doesn’t mean it feels original. There aren’t enough scares to call it a superb horror movie, and the story isn’t quite good enough to allow that to be overlooked. It didn’t have any lasting effect on me either; there wasn’t much to think or be frightened of after the credits were rolling and I was out of the theater. But, I do greatly appreciate the fact that we’re getting something that doesn’t feel like a rehash, or a product of popularity (think Paranormal Activity or The Grudge clones), and for that it’s worth checking out, despite the complaints.

Rating: 2.5/5