Saturday, 5 May 2012
FILM REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN BLACK
I'm a self confessed wuss when it comes to horror films: I can't stomach too much blood, and I have developed an appreciation for the floorings of several screening rooms thanks to my habit of averting my eyes downward when things start to get all slicey and dicey.
Thankfully, The Woman In Black is an old school horror flick, suggestive rather than gratuitous. But as grateful as I was for the absence of gore, even I failed to be startled by its bump-in-the-night theatrics.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a single father in Edwardian England, haunted by the death of his wife who died giving birth to their only child some four years earlier. He's also a lawyer but his employers aren't too impressed with his work to date. They assign him to settle an out of town deceased estate which will either secure or end his career with the firm -- and quite possibly his life.
The Humfrey estate is located on the remote outskirts of the village of Crythin Gifford, where the locals don't take too kindly to strangers. They also keep their children as close to home as possible, the reason for which soon becomes apparent to Arthur once he enters the Humfrey household. Cue super freaky weird shit.
Almost immediately upon entering the dusty halls of the Humfrey manor, Arthur spies the eponymous Woman in Black, the spectral spinster who haunts both the estate and the nearby village -- and for very good reason.
Hell hath no fury like a woman wronged, and the Woman in Black has a darn good reason to be pissed. That may not be the townsfolks' fault, but their children bear the brunt of her fury. (The film's pre-credit sequence gives you a taste of her wicked ways, and immediately sets the tone.)
But as creepy as the atmospherics of James Watkins' sophomore effort are, The Woman In Black failed to sufficiently raise my pulse or heartbeat. There are moments which had me edging closer to the edge of my seat -- one almost dialogue-free, 10-minute sequence where Radcliffe's Arthur chases sounds and shadows, upstairs and down again -- but none which had me documenting carpet patterns.
As far as haunted house films go, The Woman In Black, adapted from the Susan Hill novel by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass (2010), X-Men: First Class (2011)) is reminiscent of the recent Spanish supernatural thriller, El Orfanato (The Orphanage, 2006), but lacks that film's fright factor. Watkins chooses not to ratchet up the tension as events unfold, but rather he keeps things on a suspenseful simmer: it's more chills than thrills.
On the plus side, the film is handsomely mounted; the cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones, and production design by Kave Quinn, lending the film an eerie elegance. And Janet McTeer's hammy turn as a grieving and eccentric mother provides some much needed levity. (Ciaran Hinds as her husband, Mr Daily, the only local to befriend Arthur, gives his usual solid, though constipated, performance.)
Radcliffe also acquits himself well in his first post-Potter production, breaking away from, if not entirely free of, his boy wizard persona (having him travel via train through the English countryside, however, doesn't help banish thoughts of Hogwarts). Minus his glasses, and sporting a five o'clock shadow, he's suitably mournful if not particularly animated.
And that's how I'd describe The Woman In Black. Not that the lack of blood has produced anaemic box office results. The first film produced by the recently revived Hammer Films is already the highest grossing, locally-made horror film in the U.K. And with an international gross topping $120 million, there would seem to be a healthy audience for old school scares.