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Gavin Grades The Movies

The Woman in Black

In 1983, author Susan Hill wrote a book called The Woman in Black.  It was a story about a young lawyer going to a remote part of England around 1910 to sort out the paper work for a mansion to be sold after its owner died.  It's not just a clever title because the mansion is haunted by a woman in black and the lawyer's presence starts a whole new round of disasters for the small town.  The book was so successful that it was turned into a play 9 years later that still runs today due to its insane popularity.  As good as critics say the play is, it's changed drastically from the book.  Luckily for any non-readers, this film version goes back to the source material with attention to detail.

I give actor Daniel Radcliffe a ton of credit.  After performing as only Harry Potter for the last decade, he had his pick of any script in Hollywood for his first non-Potter role.  He would have had to choose wisely since a lot would be riding on it.  Instead of romantic comedy drivel or epic Oscar bait, he made the decision to go with a period horror film.  Balls, kid.  And despite that he's without his wand and glasses for the first time on screen, he's still not quite believable as an adult yet.  That's not to say he's not good in the role.  Radcliffe is a pretty decent actor and has blossomed into someone that's very enjoyable to watch on screen.  His only problem in this is that he's still too youthful looking to pull off a father of a 4-year-old, widower and grown ass man.

But enough about that, the real question is, "Is it scary?"  The answer is, "Yes!"  The Woman in Black is a throwback to the creepfests that used to make the hairs on your neck stand up and cover your eyes with mounting tension and deafening silence.  You only have to wait about 20 minutes for the spooks to start but from the very first seconds of the film, the tone is set for macbre, dark, gothic storytelling.  It's the very definition of the "haunted house" thriller and that's also its downfall.

Director James Watkins gets the spirit (no pun intended) award on this.  His only film prior was an indie horror piece called Eden Lake.  No one saw it, but it was pretty good despite it being cliche.  But with The Woman in Black it was as if Watkins picked up a text book on how to direct a scary movie and followed it with zero deviation.  Everything you've seen for decades is in this film as a method to make you jump.  There is visual misdirection, creeping-from-behind and point-of-view camera angles, well-placed soundtrack and silence, and even loud sound effects that make no sense in the realm of the scene.  It's like comparing a cheap carnival spook house to a legit haunted property - both might make you scared but one is the real thing and the other is tawdry and quick.

I do give massive amounts of credit to his Production Designer and Props team though.  Since most of the film takes place in one house, they had to make it as creepy as possible.  I appreciate that because when you have a small cast and a very limited set, that location almost becomes one of the characters.  I'm not sure if they made them or found them but the film is worth seeing just for the largest collection of nightmare-inducting dolls ever capture on screen.  They're the scariest thing about the movie and worthy of mentioning.

If you're in the market for a creepy ghost story that will scare you, you won't be disapointed by The Woman in Black.  However, it does have a misplaced scare climax and an ending that peters out into a drab finish that didn't satisfy me.  I love ghost stories because they have the potential to scare me more than any other genre of horror.  The Woman in Black could have been so much scarier than what it was and I would have welcomed the nightmares.  Instead we got a pretty good film with excellent mood, images and tone that ends up falling short in the scare department.  Maybe it needed more Dementors.
The Woman in Black  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-


02/02/2012 9:32PM
The Woman in Black
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02/20/2012 4:08PM
The Woman In Black
I saw this movie yesterday, I thought It was pretty good. There are some parts that will make you jump. There were people who let out a scream in the theater. It was more like mystery than it was a horror. It wasn't that scary, but it is worth seeing. I liked it, if I were to rate this movie it would be an A or A-.
04/28/2012 1:04PM
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