The Woman in Black

Generic horror film about a young lawyer who journeys to a remote house and finds a ghost bent on revenge. A gothic setting has always given ghost stories an atmospheric touch. But right from the start, the structure feels oddly familiar, like the writer might have recently read Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Technically this tale is based on a 1983 novel by Susan Hill. It begins with three young girls having a tea party with freaky looking dolls. Then, as almost hypnotized, they walk simultaneously like zombies out the window to their death. We don’t even know who these children are, so it’s difficult to care at this stage. It’s supposed to be alarming, but the scene is a Gothic horror cliché. English location? Check. Creepy toys? Check. Creepy children, check. And that’s before the opening credits.

In the lead role, Daniel Radcliffe plays an attorney sent to attend to Eel Marsh House, the estate of Mrs. Drablow, a woman who has just died. His boss has informed him that this is his last chance to prove himself or he’ll be out of a job. He’s a widower who’s left his son in the care of a nanny. A callow youth with boyish features, Radcliffe is not particularly convincing as the head of a family, though he sports sideburns and a hint of stubble to convince you otherwise. There’s an air of seriousness from our glum protagonist that says “I’m trying really hard to establish I‘m not Harry Potter.”  I accepted his character as it was the least of the narrative’s problems. He arrives in the town and everyone regards him with the stock melodramatic hatred of an outsider they don’t want involved in their business. He spends most of his time in the crumbling estate. At this point the plot starts establishing mood and for awhile I was entertained. There are many instances where the soundtrack amplifies a sound to surprise the viewer. A few of those are expected in any haunted house picture, but that’s essentially the only scare this silliness has up its sleeve.

Watching Daniel Radcliffe walk around a spooky house gets to be pretty tiresome. He walks down the same corridor so many times, I understand why this has been jokingly dubbed “Harry Potter and the Haunted Hallway”. It probably would have milked a little more money out of this dreck. After a while boredom sets in as it lulls you to sleep. That is until you are startled awake by the loud blasts of noise on the soundtrack that happen every 10 minutes. The jump scares become so routine, so lazy, I started laughing. One has a crow flying into a room that sounds like a bobcat. Just in case you missed it the first time, they literally have the crow screech again like 15 seconds later. I mean, at least use a different sound! An eerie face suddenly appearing out of the shadows is a scare used a lot. I must admit I did have some fun counting how many shock noises there were. But by the 12th one I kind of lost track.

The Woman in Black is a thoroughly unimaginative film. It’s too bad because the production designers really did their homework. As a period piece, it has atmosphere to spare. The look of Victorian England is nicely captured and the costumes and music all have the look of quality. But look closer. Discerning viewers will realize there’s nothing here but your standard issue supernatural thriller with jump scares. The script is creaky and old like the dilapidated mansion he explores. The saga ultimately leads to a conclusion that basically renders the entire mission a worthless failure. The moral of the story? Next time the townspeople tell you to leave, you should leave!

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10 Responses to “The Woman in Black”

  1. I didn’t expect you to see this one. I did, however, expect everyone to be saying Radcliffe is still in his Potter trend. I’ll go see it anyway for myself; I kind of expected bad reviews.

    • Yeah it was just silly. Not scary at all.

      • Now that you say that, I’m kind of wondering why the reviews are so considerably decent (i.e. a Metacritic score of 62 out of 100 and a reported Rotten Tomatoes average of 63%). My guess is that everybody is giving Radcliffe credit for being able to make a film after his Harry Potter career. (But how would I know.)

      • “Just silly”…oh, dear, that makes it sound GOOD…

    • Have you read the positive reviews? Most of them sound pretty negative actually. It “will soon evaporate from your memory” and “beneath the surface there isn’t a great deal going on” are quotes from the GOOD reviews.

  2. While watching the movie, I was enjoying it , even with the soundtrack raising scares. I mean it looked good, it was very eerie and I was into it, but after the ending, I was like “oh brother, really?” So, just okay..

  3. I quite fancied this one Mark but due to your (well written) scathing review, I’m having second thoughts. It may be a DVD title for me now.

    • My recommendation? Rent 1961’s The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave. It’s set in a gothic mansion in England and it’s psychologically creepy.

  4. Not especially original and not tremendously scary, but there are a few pleasurable jolts of fear, some shiver-down-your-spine moodiness and it doesn’t overstay its welcome for too long. Nice write-up Mark. Check out my review when you get the chance.

  5. Good review. I just saw this and was prepared for the usual trappings of a big-budget British horror; too much emphasis on atmosphere and distraction by an A-list star. This, however, was even worse – just lazy and as you said, unimaginative.

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