Monday, May 28, 2012

Horror Film Review

The Woman In Black (2012):  Haunted house flick from the U.K.  And it doesn't, you know, suck.  Before I get into the review, I want to assure you that there will be no references, hints, or allusions to a certain boy wizard that's enjoyed a modicum of popularity over the past decade or so.  That said, I was curious as to how Daniel Radcliffe would fare playing a grown-up in an old-fashioned, Gothic horror film.  What I discovered surprised me.  I'll get to that in a bit, but first...

The film opens with three pre-teen girls enjoying a tea party with their dolls, and yes, the dolls are creepy.  For reasons unknown, the girls all stand up, walk to the window and jump to their deaths.  Then...  Single father and widower Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a distracted solicitor given one last chance to keep his job.  He must travel to a recently deceased client's house on the outskirts of a remote village and organize the paperwork to settle the estate.  Upon arrival, he's met with what only can be described as dread by the locals.  Resident rich man Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds) takes pity on Kipps and opens his home to him, where we meet Mrs. Daily who went a little batty after the death of their young son.  She thinks she channels his spirit from time to time.  Anyway, Kipps makes it to the client's property, which becomes an island at high tide, and begins his search for paperwork in the super creepy mansion.  It's not long before he starts catching movement in his peripheral vision and hears thuds and bangs.  He investigates and soon begins seeing a woman in black lurking about.  Soon after that, a girl in the village drinks lye and dies.  Another girl sets herself on fire.  You start to understand the thing about dread at this point. 

Turns out that many years ago, the woman in black was deemed an unfit mother by her sister who took her son away and raised him as her (the sister's) own.  The boy died when the carriage he and his aunt and uncle were riding in sank into the brackish depths of the marsh.  (At low tide, the area around the property becomes a mucky, muddy bog that's basically like quicksand.)  The woman in black never forgave her sister for allowing her son to die when she and her husband survived.  Revenge was vowed, and after the woman in black hanged herself in her son's room, an inordinate number of village children died in extraordinary ways in the ensuing years.  Kipps believes if he recovers the boy's body from the marsh, he and his mother's souls can find peace...and she'll stop making kids off themselves.  You see, Kipps' own son Joseph (Misha Handley) is traveling to town to meet up with his father, so the plan really needs to work.  Does it?  Hey, that would be telling.

Ok.  About Radcliffe.  I was surprised that after around a minute of screen time, I fully believed he was a single father mourning the loss of his beloved Stella (Sophie Stuckey) in turn of the century Britain.  Also surprising was how effective the film worked as a whole.  They chose perhaps the most terrifying subject there is, children dying inexplicably, and subtly wove a tale full of tension and mystery around it.  Are you listening, Hollywood?  It can be done!


Acting:  Radcliffe shines as Kipps and Hinds brings a gravitas to the role of Sam that damn near mesmerizes.  Everyone brought their A game to this picture.
Story:  A new, albeit dark take on the classic vengeful spirit idea.  Once you get past the whole dying kids thing, it's really pretty cool.
Direction:  Usually films like this go astray in the second act, but director James Watkins stays on course and never lets off the gas.
Production Values:  You watch and know everything's been done properly, especially the eye to period detail.  That the budget was only $17 million was a bit of a shock.  It feels like a more expensive movie.
Gore/FX:  Very little blood, and the minimalist use of CGI works very well.  It's what you can't see that's the most frightening.
Scares:  Oh, just a few.  The one with the wind-up clown toy got me.  As did the scene where Sam gets locked in a room in the mansion.  There are also a number of basic jump-scares, a crow exploding out of an old fireplace, etc.  But it's the tension and anxiety that builds up as you experience the haunting with Kipps that really makes this a "horror" film.
Ending:  Not exactly what I expected, but I liked it.
Verdict:  Should you see The Woman In Black?  I'm not going to qualify this answer, I'm just going to say "yes."  It's not gross and there are no subtitles, so no excuses.

Rating:  4 out of 5


  1. Only wish D. Radcliffe could see your review! Very cool.

    1. I'm just glad that as an actor, he's taking chances and trying different things. True to form, he plays Allen Ginsberg in his next film, Kill Your Darlings.