It has been a long time since I’ve intentionally watched a horror-genre film. I think The Blair Witch Project (1999) was the last one I’d seen in a theater. I tend to lean toward psychological-traumas, than all out physical-harm, the same goes for film choices. The Woman in Black involves two ingredients I try to avoid in scare-flicks because they creep me out the most: children and dolls. The Woman in Black begins with both. And just keeps going.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who is going to lose his job if he does not complete this next task: sorting through the copious amounts of paper the late Alice Drablow left behind at the Eels Marsh House. It isn’t that Arthur is lazy as much as he is still grieving for his wife (4 years after her death). He hasn’t seemed to recover, haunted by images of her–a woman in white.
The villagers do not want him going near the House and in true horror-mystery fashion you are left to wonder why for a long while. It has something to do with these self-murdering children and what they see, and what Arthur sees. But Arthur has a child of his own to think about so he really must persevere and get the job done. Still, he is not so insensitive as to avoid becoming involved in the local mystery and to try to make things right, if not just flat-out survive the experience.
Between the slow revelations, the secluded haunted house, creepy children (living or dead), old dolls, apparitions, and Boo!-tactics, you have a scary movie. There is very little dialog, relying on ambient sound and lighting to carry the atmospheric. Radcliffe is expressive and the rest of the cast appropriately tormented, so the acting is very good. Manohla Dargis at the NY Times notes that Radcliffe proves a capable and essential ingredient in compelling the viewer, “With Mr. Watkins’s creeping camerawork it’s Arthur who keeps the story steadily moving forward inch by inch, shiver by shiver.”
>>>Spoilers up to the last little paragraph.
The ending is perhaps the most disturbing; which is saying quite a bit because witnessing children killing themselves in horrible ways is very disturbing. The ending: a benevolent ghost reunites the grieving widower with his wife in a way that could bring his innocent desiring-to-be-happy son along and create a happy ending. And why would she do so? Because he helped reunite her with her loved one—her son. That horror sensation of Arthur’s son somehow managing the descent off the platform to stand on the tracks before an on-coming train; Arthur hurrying after him to save him, embracing him; the looks on the nanny’s and Sam’s faces; it’s flickers into confusion and dies with the protagonist and his son. There is this happy reunion with a slightly confused but completely nonplussed little boy; which is another thing, the children do not seem all that worried or effected by lye or fire or drowning, etc. The woman in black removes the only thing keeping Arthur going, the only reason he doesn’t take that razor to his throat at the beginning of the film. She does this for the viewer as well.
The woman in black looks on somewhat tenderly, certainly satisfied, and then turns her deadlier gaze upon the audience just before credits roll. We saw her, so what happens now? Dun dun duhhh. Except, I think it may have been too late for that. Can you scare a body after that kind of happy-ish ending? I would have let them get run over. Have the woman in white looking on beside the woman in black, both smiling for their own reasons. And then have the woman in black turn her threatening gaze upon the viewer. We were already frightened by the idea that it was too late to make things right with the scorned woman, why not just run with it? Likely because we should always try to make things right if we are to be good and not evil like the woman in black, and like the sister who kept her from her son.
Ciaran Hinds is excellent as Sam Daily, a functional avatar for audience members.
The Woman in Black is chock full of people haunted by the violent and unexpected loss of their loved ones. You could derive a sense that no one living through that could rest in peace until they were reunited in some way to their dead–except that would be rather optimistic and not true in the film. You could more easily say that children pay the price for adults who ______- okay, the second part is trickier and thus arbitrary so there is no escape, no reason why the woman in black can’t come after you—dun dun duhhh! My conclusion: Grieving adults can be scary, their actions and their consequences can be horrifying (e.g. have “twins,” lock second children in basements, terrorize a village, and make the death of a sweet young boy okay).
>>>”last little paragraph:”
So, in the end, there seems very little that lingers; you leave after some good scares and with a deeper phobia of old dolls and pasty white children. I guess that is why we went anyway, to be properly scared for the length of the film. It was a good film for it. I can easily recommend it (though, perhaps best avoided if it is raining or muddy out).
________________Woman in Black (2012)______________
Directed by James Watkins; written by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill; produced by Richard Jackson, Simon Oakes and Brian Oliver; cinematography, Tim Maurice-Jones; ed. Jon Harris; music Marco Beltrami; starring: Daniel Radcliffe (Arthur Kipps), Ciaran Hinds (Samuel Daily), Janet McTeer (Mrs. Daily) and Liz White (Jennet Humfrye).
Running time: 95 minutes. rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Some blood but little actual violence.
—————-links & reviews—————–
Wiki page. IMDb page.
Manohla Dargis “A Haunted Lawyer? What Could Be Scarier?” Roger Ebert’s review