The Woman in BlackPosted by cinefile
The Woman in Black (2012), directed by James Watkins
If you’re going to make a ghost movie in this day and age, and especially if you’re going to make it a period ghost movie, you better have a damn good story to back it up. I mean, this is the day and age of Paranormal Activity. A lot of people hated that movie, I loved it, but that doesn’t matter, the point is that it exists and that it upped the ante for modern horror. To go back from such a timely movie to a stuffy, Poe-ish gothic horror film, you’re going to need something more than bumps in the night to get the audience involved.
The scariest things to audiences are those that they can best relate to, that seem the most possible. If you set your movie in turn of the century (not the last one, the one before) you already have your work cut out for you. There’s no way I’m going to be terrorized by a ghost while riding in my horse-drawn carriage or searching an old root cellar with a candle. It’s just not going to happen. So I’m already once-removed from the scary bits.
So like I said, you better make up for that with a great story. This is where The Woman in Black really fails. Not only does it rely heavily on tried and no-longer-true ghost movie cliches (A strange noise! A figure lurking in the background! The candle went out! Is somebody there?!) it has a story that I barely understood and a conclusion that audiences will figure out about an hour before the main character does.
The end result is that the film is boring. It’s gunning for “atmospheric” and “tense” but because I don’t care about the story, because the scares are really amateur hour and because the main character says about three words per half hour and otherwise just walks around looking morose/inquisitive, there’s nothing to grab my attention.
Let’s face it, the main reason this got made and the real reason anyone even really cares about it is that it’s the first post-Harry Potter film for infamous chain smoker Daniel Radcliffe (or so I’ve heard…). I feel sorry for this guy, and maybe this was a great choice. I mean, think about it. Millions of people around the world have watched this guy grow up as Harry Potter. He IS Harry Potter in their minds (for some of us he’s the boy in The Tailor of Panama, but we’re a minority I understand). And now that’s all over and he has to convince people that he’s not magical, he’s just actor Daniel Radcliffe.
Personally I think it’s time for him to take on the traditional typecast breaker artist junkie role, but he went another route. (Just read that he is next going to play Allen Ginsberg. So, so called it.) This is a quieter role, perhaps an attempt to show himself as a more classical actor, and certainly a declaration that he wants to play adult roles, what with having a son in the film and all. Also, with such high expectations, let’s face it, it’s probably not the worst thing in the world to start your post-Harry Potter career with a dud. Now he can relax.
But it certainly is an odd role. As I said, he hardly speaks. It’s a very quiet film, which can be an advantage (see There Will Be Blood…) but here just adds to its creakiness. And Radcliffe, I’m sorry to say, is a little Potter-ish in it as he searches around for clues and faces supernatural forces. I don’t think he whips out a wand at any point, but the role is far from an about turn.
I’m going to give this film credit for the first two minutes and the last ten. It has a great little opener that is simple but affective and certainly peaked my interest. And then it lost my interest for about an hour and twenty minutes and then it suddenly picked up again for a great climax (even if the finale was lame). It even induced a spine chill in me as the titular woman came screaming across the room at Harry (sorry). It is a truly exciting scene.
But lovely bookends do not make for a great shelf (or something). The Woman in Black is a bore, there’s really no other word for it. It reuses haunted house cliches we’ve all seen before, it offers little in the way of a compelling story to make up for it and the whole thing comes off as stuffy and old fashioned, but without the class or cleverness of the best classics to make it worth your while, in some sort of Poe sense.
Basically it’s no Paranormal Activity. Haters can hate.
The Woman in Black is available on home video now.