The Woman in Black

Posted: February 14, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by James Watkins. Starring Daniel Radcliffe. Written by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill.

A lot of things conspired to make me think that I wasn’t going to enjoy this film.
First off there’s expectation. Robert Wise’s 1963 version of The Haunting is perhaps the definitive haunted house film, and also happens to be one of my all time favourite films. I prefer ghostly psychological horror to blood, violence and cheap scares (though they have their place) and so I’d been really looking forward to this. Could it live up to my preconceptions?
Secondly there was the setting. A cinema on a Monday evening during half term, and there were a lot of kids in there. I’m not one to complain, but felt I had to when a bunch started texting each other and joking loudly as the film started. Luckily things settled down after an usher made an appearance. By now I was wound up though, and the opening 15 minutes or so of the film weren’t really grabbing my attention.
But then Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps makes his first visit to Eel Marsh House, a suitably gloomy mansion, and things got more interesting. It’s a great location, even if it never quite feels as isolated as its offshore location suggests, and it’s here that Kipps catches his first glimpse of the eponymous woman in black. Upon returning to the nearby village tragedy strikes and the villagers—who haven’t been that friendly anyway—turn even more belligerent towards the young Kipps. He’s told to leave, but instead he spends the night alone at Eel Marsh House…

This really is a film of three thirds. The first third is perhaps the weakest portion of the film, and it does take a little while to get going, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In the middle the film is at its strongest, a superb sequence that sees Kips menaced by all manner of spooky goings on, and this is probably represents Radcliffe’s best acting within the film as well, because if there is a flaw in his casting it is the fact that even though he looks like a young man, when he speaks he does tend to sound younger, but alone in Eel Marsh house dialogue is at a minimum and he does a great job of expressing all the fear and terror that his character is feeling.

The final third falls somewhere between, it’s much more engaging than the start of the film, but cant quite live up to the middle section, and the ending, whilst it probably could have been a lot worse, could have been handled better.

On the whole a very good, but not quite a great entry into the haunted house genre. It’s no The Haunting, in fact it isn’t even as good as films on the next rung down like The Others or the Orphanage…but it isn’t far behind. Making a really scary film is a difficult thing to do, in the same way that making a funny film isn’t easy, and at times The Woman in Black skirts close to the line between scary and silly. For example the villagers sometimes seem only a whisker away from becoming a torch wielding mob ala an old Hammer Horror (ironic given The Woman in Black is made by the reborn Hammer studios).

On the whole though the film stays the right side of the line, and in particular there are some genuinely creepy moments, especially during the central part of the film, but also towards the end, and it says a lot that even in a cinema full of not exactly quiet patrons, this film still had the power to scare. I look forward to watching it alone some evening once it comes out on DVD, and it might get a better rating on second viewings.

As it stands it’s close to an 8, but the slow start plus an ending that could have been subtler whilst still retaining the same emotive effect, mean I’m giving it a very respectable 7/10

  1. lebowski1 says:

    You’ve got more patience than I have. If a horror film doesn’t scare the living crap out of me I always think it’s “a bit shit”. Your cinema’s down there have ushers?? Bloody hell – it’s like the 1970s – lucky you! Also, may I say that the design of your blog (visually) is great. You’re making me think I’ll have to up my game considerably. Well done Po.

  2. starkers70 says:

    Well not ushers in the old fashioned sense, just the people who man the concession stands/take tickets, they don’t have torches or some round with ice creams or anything!

    I can’t really take credit for the design, it’s just one of the templates on WordPress

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