Friday, February 3, 2012


The Hammer Film Production Company, based in the UK, spent its glory years of 1950 thru 1970 creating some of the best gothic horror films in history; with films like THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA (1958) with stars like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. After bailing out of the movie business due to an over-saturation of horror movies in the late 1970’s, the company has returned with THE WOMAN IN BLACK; a creepy tale of a vengeful ghost with all the atmosphere and scares of their classic films. But what about the rest of it?

Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young, depressed London lawyer who lost his wife in childbirth. Raising his son while in mourning, he is assigned the legal responsibility of sorting out the legal affairs of a recently deceased widow. Travelling to a remote village, Arthur must spend time going through paperwork in the widow’s isolated manor, which is cut off from the world hours at a time by rising tide waters. While working, Arthur encounters strange and eerie happenings around the manor, and finds himself unraveling a mystery which involves suicidal children from the village.

BLACK begins as Arthur’s story. He is a deeply depressed man who must complete his assignment in order to secure his position at the firm and re-establish his relationship with his son. Arthur’s motivations are clear, and in the early goings it is easy to root for him. His story runs along nicely with the mystery surrounding the manor and its spooky goings, but once the goings do get spooky, both stories get lost. The movie spends a great amount of time on its scares, as Arthur goes from room to room in the house, gets scared, runs away, goes to another room…rinse, repeat. While this is a horror movie and it should succeed on its scares, there is just too much of it here and it becomes tedious and boring. By the time the film gets back around to telling its story, it’s nearly too late as interest has been lost.

If BLACK’s lone intention is to provide scares and chills, then it can be called a successful film. Director James Watkins does great work with the timing and pacing, even though many of the scares can be seen coming from a mile away. Watkins does utilize the surroundings nicely; taking full advantage of the isolation of the manor, along with its long hallways, creepy kid’s toys and candlelit rooms. The isolation of the manor is a point of interest; with Arthur by himself having no one to talk to, there are long sequences with no dialogue which provide some great atmospheric tension. Watkins displays some real skill in creating atmosphere, and it should be fun to watch him evolve as a filmmaker.

Daniel Radcliffe is nearly un-recognizable as the boy-wizard the world has known him for. While he seems to have very little dialogue, he does sell the fear and pain that his character has to endure. The supporting cast has minimal action, although they do their jobs well.

The finale can be seen from a mile away by anyone who has ever seen a horror movie. Objectively it works, but even when looking at it within-a-box it feels predictable with little shock value. If THE WOMAN IN BLACK was meant to scare people and do nothing else, then it succeeds. It unfortunately doesn’t put much behind the scares which makes them feel like nothing more than shiny paper which wraps an empty box. THE WOMAN IN BLACK is as scary as it is forgettable.


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