by Magdalen O’Reilly
In a movie scene awash with gory slashers and found footage flops, The Woman in Black is intriguing in it’s simplicity. The plot harkens back to classic haunted house movies like House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Haunting (1963), a beleaguered protagonist is forced to stay in a reportedly haunted mansion and gradually discover the truth behind the grisly murders that occurred there years prior. The Woman in Black attempts to revitalize this spooky genre, and it almost succeeds.
The story follows Arthur Kipps, played by Daniel Radcliffe, a grieving widower with a young son. He’s on thin ice at work and in order to keep his job, he must sell Eel Marsh house in the middle of the gloomy English countryside. The first thing I noticed about this film is the cinematography and use of light is very well done. The effectiveness of a period piece is often ruined by actors and sets that look too clean with perfectly styles hair and modern make up. This film thankfully avoids this issue. It definitely succeeds in creating an unsettling atmosphere and sets up an spooky premise. But the pay off was unfortunately disappointing.
The first half of the movie creates an interesting character, a lot of intrigue and mystery. The second half is riddled with ear splitting orchestra strings and jump scares that left me more annoyed than terrified. It’s really a shame because the visual scares, and the quiet moments of darkness and solitude were creepy and had the potential to leave a lasting effect- it’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
But director James Watkins couldn’t resist the quick and easy route to scaring his audience. Because of this the scares are completely predictable and boring, just wait for the music to die to down completely, what’s that in the corner? Oh it’s nothing… BOO! It was something all along! I would be lying if I said the movie didn’t scare me, I spent the last half watching approximately 30 percent of the screen through my fingers (less screen = less scary, it’s very scientific). But it’s a cheap fear that comes easily and isn’t really satisfying. The audience is ultimately jumping at loud noises and that’s just not real horror.
The film, although beautifully moody, has a few other failings. There are subplots with characters that are set up, but never go anywhere. This left me thinking that this movie was poorly edited. Overall the ending left me confused and disappointed. But I would like to see James Watkins try again, this film definitely had potential. Hopefully next time he’ll trust his writing and let the story do the scaring.