Monday, February 6, 2012

Review: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black is a dark, creepy ghost story that relies heavily on atmosphere, rather than on gore (a sharp contrast to director James Watkins' 2008 film, Eden Lake). The foggy isolation of the England marshes set the stage for a haunting story that creeps in like the fog that hovers over the film's setting, completely enveloping the audience.

The Woman in Black follows young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) as he heads to rural England to tie up the estate of his firm's client, a late widow who has recently passed away. Kipps, who lost his wife in childbirth four years prior, is counting on this case to solidify his place in the firm, so that he may continue to provide for his young son. Upon arriving in town, Kipps discovers that the superstitious locals are reluctant to have anything at all to do with the late widow (reluctant to even speak of her, as a matter of fact), and are anxious for him to conclude his business and to be on his way. As Kipps begins his work at the widow's house, he soon learns that the home has a past all its own - a past that may be tied to the untimely deaths of many of the village's children.

Watkins seizes the atmospheric tension and this story and uses it very effectively. For every fright moment that takes center stage, there are about three others that go by so quickly and unassumingly that you might not even have picked up on them. When you do, you begin to realize that there could be (and probably is) something lurking in every shadow and in every dark corner of this creepy old house. And that's BEFORE you notice all of the creepy little dolls. If you thought your Teddy Ruxpin was scary growing up, be glad you weren't a kid in turn-of-the-century England. That's all I'm going to say.

This atmospheric, ghostly, Gothic horror story is something that has been missing from cinema recently. If anyone was going to bring it back and execute it this well, I'm glad that it was Hammer. It's in their blood, and Watkins was an excellent choice to take it on. Radcliffe handled his role very well, but I do think that his age played against him a little here. He mastered the emotional complexities of a husband and father who has gotten stuck in the grief process, but he just doesn't look old enough to actually be there. He had the skill to own the role, but his face gave him away. However, if the way he did manage to grasp the role and take it over is any indication, I look forward to seeing the different projects that he takes on in the future.

The Woman in Black is a call out to the horror stories of yore. When all houses and castles were dark and scary, anything could be hiding in the mist, ghosts hovered in every shadow, and the past will absolutely come back to get you. No one is ever safe. This type of story is timeless and well worth the price of admission.

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