Feb 12, 2012

Posted in 2010s, Flicks by Decades, Ray, Reviewers, UK

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black certainly has a few things going for it – most famously, it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s first post-Harry Potter movie, but also has a great setting which it makes fantastic use of, and there’s some genuinely creepy scenes in it.  Unfortunately, a lot of what it does well gets undermined by a rather weak central mystery, and some poor character motivations.

Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a London solicitor who’s still not yet over his wife’s death in childbirth 4 years earlier.  Given one last chance to prove he can still be an asset to his firm, he gets sent out to the coast to finish disposing of the estate of one Alice Drablow.  Upon arriving, Arthur receives a curiously chilly welcome – the hotel has no reservation from him, the local solicitor insists that he return to London immediately, and everyone ushers their children indoors when he walks by.  In fact, there’s only two people not trying to get him out of town as soon as possible, the Dailys (Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer), a nice wealthy couple who still mourn the loss of their son several years earlier .  Undeterred by the locals’ inhospitable behavior, Arthur heads out to Mrs. Drablow’s home, Eel Marsh House, to sort through her papers.  His attempts to work are frequently interrupted by strange noises and fleeting glimpses of other people in the supposedly empty house, though.  Arthur soon discovers that Eel Marsh House is believed to be haunted by the titular ghost, whose every appearance foretells the death of another local child.  Although he doesn’t believe in ghosts, Arthur sets aside his duties to solve the mystery of the woman in black, and break the curse over the town.

For a long time, The Woman in Black gets by almost purely on atmosphere – the town is frequently covered in fog, and Eel Marsh House itself is a magnificently spooky place, with its many rooms, overgrown garden (complete with family burial plot), and the fact that it gets cut off from the mainland at high tide.  Any sane person, regardless of their feelings on the supernatural, would be reluctant to spend even a few minutes there.  There’s even a child’s room filled with windup toys that look just plain creepy in daylight, and downright nightmare-inducing in candlelight.

It’s a shame, then, that the movie starts resorting to cheaper scares, like having a ghost suddenly fill the empty space behind Radcliffe, accompanied by a ‘you’re supposed to be scared’ sound effect.  It gets a bit tiresome, and it really wastes such a nice setup.  More egregious is pretty much every character in the movie does dumb things for no reason: instead of gathering up all of Mrs. Drablow’s papers and working in town, Arthur insists on going back to the creepy house where he sees things that aren’t there every day.  This extends to the townspeople, too – there’s never any indication that anyone tried to escape the curse by moving out of town (or if it’s not possible), so we’re left with the impression that for over 30 years, every family simply stayed put and accepted that their children were doomed.

And speaking of the curse, it doesn’t make much sense: since the woman in black is angry at Mr. and Mrs. Drablow, she takes her revenge on all the families in town because…why?  The Drablows didn’t have any children for her to kill, so as far as we can see, she’s focusing her rage on all the people who did nothing to her.  The ghost is supposed to be a bit sympathetic, given what happened to her, but this makes her just seem like a vindictive bitch instead of a victim.  So, good job there, folks – your creepy, atmospheric, old-fashioned English ghost story is instead the much less-interesting tale of an angry ghost who drives children to suicide for something their parents didn’t do.  I like a back-to-basics haunted house movie as much as anyone, but it needs more than just a specter flying at you, screaming, to make a lasting impression.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)
The Woman in Black, 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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