Sunday, February 12, 2012

If we open the door to superstition, where does it lead?

 Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

The first time I saw a trailer for The Woman in Black I was cautiously optimistic. Too often nowadays we get horror movies that focus too much on blood, gore and jump scares that to see a genuinely creepy ghost film that is traditionally shot (in other words not Paranormal Activity) I was excited. Granted that excitement went away a little when I saw the screamer trailer they played at the movie theater for an entire month but knowing it was a Jane Goldman written (X-Men First Class, Kick-Ass, The Debt) James Watkins directed (the highly underrated Eden Lake) film I still had high hopes. Plus if nothing else I was excited to see Daniel Radcliffe in a non Harry Potter role. While he still has a ways to go as an actor, I believe he has gotten better over the years and, after watching TWIB, it shows.
 The film follows Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a solicitor in the early 1900s who is given the task of settling the estate and sorting through the paperwork of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. He's given the task because his work up to this point has been rather underwhelming, or at least in the eyes of his boss, and if he screws this job up he might as well consider himself fired. As a single father in debt he can't really afford to say no so he goes up North and is less than warmly welcomed by the locals. In fact they try to usher him out of town before he even has a chance to get started. But Arthur is driven and so he heads to Alice's house, which is apparently cursed, and decides to start working. Little does he know he's about to uncover the mystery of the town, Alice and this supposed Woman in Black that haunts the house.

The story is based on the 1983 novel of the same name and having read the book, it follows it rather well, although as usual it has its own unique twists that set it apart. The film itself is rather traditional, sometimes to a fault, when it comes to the haunted house genre, following the usual plot line that most films of this type have, but it's rather well done and never really feels boring. Yes there are some scenes that could have been cut down and Goldman and Watkins seem to have an obsession with the "walk down a hallway slowly" but usually the payoff tends to be quite good.

That's one thing the film does exceptionally well though, the payoff. This is one of the first genuinely scary films I've seen since The Descent back in 2005. The atmosphere, sound effects, soundtrack, even the way the camera is placed all create a really creepy vibe and whenever they go for a scare, 9 times out of 10 it's not a jump scare but rather something you'll catch out of the corner of your eye. Towards the latter half of the film they do utilize a number of jump scares (usually a screamer), but by then they are so relentless that one person in the audience screamed out "I can't take much more of this!" And I will admit, as someone so otherwise desensitized to the horror genre, I was gripping my chair and cowering at times, waiting for something to jump out only to have nothing happen and then *BOOM* come out of nowhere.
As for the acting this film doesn't really have a lot going for it. Radcliffe does a surprisingly good job with what he's given but most of the other characters are lifeless, dull and really not all that memorable. I'm not sure if it's because that's how they were written or if the actors really just didn't care. And when they do show any emotion, it comes off as forced and tends to be more laughable then genuinely disquieting. I realize this is Radcliffe's film and he gets a majority of the spotlight and screen time, but the supporting actors need to be good as well so they can deliver their piece of the puzzle for Radcliffe to put together. But this is Radcliffe's movie and he does well enough that for the most part unless you're looking for it, you probably won't notice the lifeless supporting cast.

Overall though The Woman in Black is a traditional horror film with a good lead, great scares, a haunting atmosphere and a story that you actually want to pay attention to. If you're looking for a good ghost story or are tired of the blood and gore that seems to have become the norm nowadays in horror films then check out The Woman in Black.

MY VERDICT: SEE IT (3.5 out of 5)

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