Wednesday, September 18, 2013

#1,129. The Woman in Black (2012)

Directed By: James Watkins

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds

Tag line: "What did they see?"

Trivia: The boy who plays Daniel Radcliffe's son is his real godson, a casting idea made by Radcliffe himself

I’ve never seen the 1989 made-for-TV version of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, which, from what I understand, is the definitive take on the story. But as it turns out, this most recent telling (co-produced by Hammer Studios) is a damn creepy ghost tale that, despite a few minor issues, is sure to give you nightmares.

The setting is England, in the early days of the 20th Century. For years, lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) has been mourning the death of his beloved wife (Sophie Stuckey), who died in childbirth while delivering their son, Joseph (Misha Handley). Hoping to get his career back on track, Arthur travels to the small village of Crythin Grifford, where he must arrange the sale of the Eel Marsh House, a decrepit mansion on the outskirts of town that’s been vacant ever since its owner passed away. Against the wishes of the local population, Arthur heads out to Eel Marsh House to review a mound of paperwork. But the appearance of a ghostly woman in black, which has been blamed for the sudden deaths of many children in town, transforms Arthur’s night of research into a terrifying encounter with the supernatural.

One of the first things I noticed while watching The Woman in Black was how far Daniel Radcliffe has come since his decade-long stint as boy-wizard Harry Potter. Perfectly convincing as a man in despair, Radcliffe shows some genuine range in the role, going from grieving widower to determined investigator without missing a beat. The mystery surrounding this small village is also quite intriguing, leaving us to wonder why so many of the town’s children have died violently [the movie opens with three young girls leaping to their deaths from an attic window]. And like the classic Hammer films of yesteryear, the period look and feel of The Woman in Black is exceptional. The house itself, a vine-covered mansion situated in the middle of nowhere, is eerie as hell, and the scenes in which Arthur is exploring it are incredibly tense.

One area where this recent The Woman in Black proved a disappointment was its over-reliance on jump scares, a few of which worked [as Arthur is touring the house, some of what he experiences is positively terrifying], while others fell short of the mark (a crow, letting out a loud “caw”, darts out of nowhere, not once, but twice). With its chilling tale of the supernatural, The Woman in Black didn’t even need these jump scares; simply put, the film was frightening enough without them!

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