Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Film Review: The Woman in Black

I think what surprised me most about The Woman in Black was not the post Potter acting of Daniel Radcliffe - he is a capable actor, if nothing else, and that was to be expected - but how out of time the film seems to be.   In this day and age of the paranormal found footage films and the omnipresent torture porn taking the horror genre way off course, The Woman in Black plays out as an old fashioned ghost story, even while still using more modern tricks of the so-called trade.  Set at the end of the Victorian Age, in an appropriately creepy looking gothic house, in the middle of an appropriately spooky looking foggy moor, just outside an appropriately cursed small village, this appropriately old school horror movie takes on aspects of Jack Clayton's eerily designed 1961 haunted house tale The Innocents (which in turn was an adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw) while simultaneously playing out as a sort of retooling of The Ring.  In other words, this film takes both the old and the new and blends it into a surprisingly hearty and quite fun horror movie.  Imagine that.

Now granted, the film does leave something to be desired - some more scares would have been nice, and perhaps a stronger actor than Radcliffe - but when compared to the sheer gross out factor so rampant in what passes as horror these days, this is a film more people should be seeing - especially those who think chaining a woman up and systematically carving her up is the be all and end all of horror.   With strong supporting turns by Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer, Radcliffe's rather stunted acting does get by here - the way the story is told, for the most part he need only react to what is going on around him, and he seems capable of doing at least that - and we are allowed to ignore such and just let the story, which is basic but well honed, engulf us in its appropriately scary (though never too scary - my main criticism) tale of a long dead woman whose ghost makes the village's children kill themselves in order to fulfill her revenge on those who locked her away and took her own child away.

Directed by James Watkins, who's only previous directorial effort was the the horror film Eden Lake, about a gang of teens chasing down and torturing a young couple (and of course one of the couple is played by Michael Fassbender - seriously, is he in everything?), The Woman in Black, in all its old school charm of ghostly wet footprints and dead-eyed children and dolls and toys come to life (seriously, that shit is scary!), is enough to remind one of those great woebegone B-pictures of the genre that permeated the 1950's and early 1960's.  This too is appropriate as the purveying studio that brought many of these ghost and monster stories to life, the iconic Hammer Films, is out of seeming hibernation and has their logo front and center at the opening of the film.  All in all, a classic tale of wickedness and the netherworld that never falls prey to the siren call of the modern day torture porn set - and a film that ends on the strangest happy note one can imagine.  That is a happy ending, right?  No?  Really?  C'mon, you know it is.

1 comment:

Ryan Fernand said...

It was surprising how upbeat the ending to this was (unless of course you count the last image even though it had had nothing to do with the plot). As a film trying to get people to jump out of their seats, this definitely succeeded. The problem was there was no plot for me to get interested in. I actually didn't have a problem with Radcliffe's acting abilities, but I thought he was extremely miscast. Great review.