The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black
It’s the early 1900’s and Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is on the verge of losing his job with a London law firm.  He’s failed to fully recover from the death of his wife as she gave birth to their son Joseph (Misha Handley) four years earlier.  He’s given one last chance to prove himself to the firm.  He must go to the north east of England and settle the estate of Alice Drablow who lived in a large home on an island off the coast, connected to the mainland by a causeway that is covered over by the sea at high tide.  On the train ride, Arthur meets Samuel Daily (Ciaran Hinds).  He offers Arthur a ride from the station in his automobile and invites Arthur to join him and his wife Elizabeth (Janet McTeer) for dinner during his stay.  When he arrives in the community near the home, he’s shunned and encouraged to return to London.  Confused but undaunted, Arthur manages to get transportation to the house and begins looking through the mountains of documents.  It isn’t long before he begins hearing noises in the house that are coming from upstairs.  Finding nothing, he looks out the window and sees a woman dressed in black standing in the family graveyard.  Going to investigate, Arthur cannot find the woman.  While outside, he hears what sounds like a carriage accident and the screams of a woman and child on the causeway but he sees nothing.  Upon returning to town, Arthur reports the accident he heard on the causeway to the local constable.  While waiting, two little boys bring in their sister and tell Arthur she has drunk lye.  She vomits blood and dies in Arthur’s arms.  The townspeople become more angry and menacing to Arthur, blaming him for the death of the little girl.  Samuel Daily explains there’s a local superstition that when someone sees the woman dressed in black, a child soon dies.  Daily dismisses the notion, but some papers Arthur finds in the house indicate there may be some truth to the local legend.
“The Woman in Black” is a throwback movie.  It looks and feels like those 1950’s haunted house films where sound was used to convey the dread and foreboding of a dilapidated mansion and the evil that lurks inside.  While this film uses modern techniques to produce the scares, it also reaches back to the old days with sound effects put to good use, building up the tension to a nearly intolerable level then releasing it with a sudden jolt of fear.  While I expected the movie to be mostly build up and very little payoff, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of scares the film delivers.  The film is never flashy in its frights and doesn’t depend on obvious digital effects to produce a ghost.  The special effects team should be complimented on keeping their work subtle and never trying to overwhelm the audience with their efforts.
Star Daniel Radcliffe is very good in the lead role as the young lawyer dealing with the pain of losing his wife.  It was good to see him playing something other than Harry Potter and he was more than up to conveying the character’s sense of loss and sadness, along with his drive to solve the mystery of the house and haunting.  Of course, his character does the same stupide thing that every person does who hears a mysterious noise in a haunted house:  He goes investigating.  Why anyone would go wondering around a big, run down house looking for the source of a noise is beyond me.  If you hear something you can’t explain, my mind offers up only two options:  Either you stay put and ignore it, or you run like your head is on fire and your behind is catching.  Neither option leaves any room for investigating.  If you choose option one, the ghost or demon will come and find you.  Option two eliminates option one’s possible outcome.  While this might make a less interesting movie, it would be a more realistic one and I’m sure a good screenwriter could manage to either get the main character back in the house or move the entities to where the hero is, but that’s just me.
While I’m no expert in the realm of show business and the proper career arc of young actors, I would like to see Daniel Radcliffe in something less genre heavy and more rooted in reality.  He should play a supporting role in a small film that’s as far away from Hogwarts as he can possibly get.  According to his Wikipedia page, his next two roles appear to be headed in a more realistic direction.  That’s good as he needs to broaden his scope beyond moody, brooding, tragic figures.
“The Woman in Black” is rated PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images.  We see a desiccated corpse, the body of a child who died in a marsh, three young girls simultaneously step out of a third floor window, a young girl vomits blood and another sets herself on fire.  There are no language issues.
“The Woman is Black” would be easy to dismiss as just another scary movie if it didn’t deliver the scares so well.  It also gets the feel and the tone of a haunted house movie perfectly right, showing us a mansion that is both regal and run down, opulent and oppressive.  It’s the ideal place to have the crap scared out of you and Daniel Radcliffe is a good choice to lead you to the frights.
“The Woman in Black” gets five guitars.
A comic book sequel, a romantic comedy set in the world of spies and Anime are on the menu for your movie going pleasure this week.  Vote on the film I’ll see and review next.
Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengeance—The anti-hero with the flaming skull is back and given a chance to be released from his curse if he can stop a young boy from being changed into the Antichrist.
The Secret World of Arrietty—Residing quietly beneath the floorboards are little people who live undetected in a secret world to be discovered, where the smallest may stand tallest of all.
This Means War—Two of the world's deadliest CIA operatives are inseparable partners and best friends - until they discover that they've fallen in love with the same woman.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choosing currently playing.
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