Monday, 5 March 2012
Movie #22 The Woman in Black
Regular readers might be aware of the fact that I like to declare my prejudices right of the bat, so here goes: I dislike middle-brow movies in general, and middle-brow horror movies in particular (cf The Awakening). Also, while I have enjoyed some ghostly movies (The Orphanage, The Shining), they aren't usually my cup of tea horror-wise; my tastes run more toward the fantastical (Pan's Labyrinth), the realistic (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and the inevitable zombies. And finally, I have seen the much-vaunted stage production of The Woman in Black and... was bored by it.
So on the face of it, things aren't looking good for this movie adaptation of The Woman in Black, even though I am well-disposed toward Daniel Radcliffe playing the lead role of Kipps, a London lawyer tasked with selling the spooky old Eel Marsh house. On his despatch to the house (in generic, though presumably northern and certainly coastal, rural England) he arrives to find the comic-book locals eyeing him with suspicion and attempting to frustrate his business, seemingly due to local superstitions regarding the house, its ghost, and the manifold deaths of local children.
And I'm afraid I didn't like it. The scares are uniformly cheap - director James Watkins is an obvious connoisseur of those 'screamer' YouTube videos that did the rounds a few years back - and tend to be of the 'face at the window' variety. The jumps are there (thanks in large part to the score), but there is little mystery and no suspense - the eeriness is telegraphed by by rooms packed with creepy-looking children's toys, and lots of dust 'n' cobwebs. Crucially, the film plays its hand too early in terms of the nature of the titular Woman - there's little doubt form the get-go that she is a 'real' ghost whose motives are purely malign.
Without wishing to be particularly savage to the film - it's better than, say, Safe House, as multiplex thrill-ride - there are plenty of other issues too. The screenplay (from usually-good Jane Goldman) is heavy on cheesy exposition and light on characterisation, not to mention the rather unsatisfactory climax. The village is preposterously remote and tiny, yet - pet peeve alert - seems to have attracted residents from the four corners of England, as far as the local accent is concerned. And the film is so rammed with horror movie cliche that anyone with a working appreciation of the genre will find The Woman In Black elicts giggles rather than gasps at crucial moments.
Good points are few: Daniel Radcliffe is actually very solid here; he holds the film together and I bought his performance. Ciaran Hinds is a safe pare of hands in a supporting role. The plot made sense. You will jump. But that's about it. It's workmanlike stuff that will be enjoyed/appreciated more by horror neophytes than regular cinema-goers, but even then it's no great shakes. See it if you must, but don't expect to be moved - merely jolted.