The Woman In Black (2012) Review (PG-13)
The Woman In Black will be mainly noteworthy as the film for Daniel Radclffe performing in his first post-Harry Potter role. I was never a big Potter fan (liking only 2 of the 8 films). I was just hoping for a decent gothic horror flick and I guess I kind of got that. Kind of. It wasn’t great, but it had a few creepy moments. It was typical of this kind of film. It doesn’t feel like a big film, but has an impressive central set piece. The secluded manor where the Woman In Black emanates from is one of those domiciles that look incredible on film. If you like the the spooky old turn of the 19th century ghost story houses, you’ll be thrilled with the appearance of the film. It’s like they’re working from a checklist. Spooky fog, shadows, graves, staircases, creepy toys that move on their own… It’s all there. Sudden loud noises. Eerie figures creeping around in the periphery. It’s done well, but you can expect things to happen.
The film opens with a somewhat hurried scene where three little girls playing in an attic, literally drop what they’re doing to casually stroll to the nearest windows and fling themselves to their detahs… Main titles roll… It’s quick. Rushed even, but don’t let yourself think that’s my opinion of the entire film. Daniel Radcliffe plays Kipps, a widowed lawyer raising a son, sent to attend to a recently deceased woman’s estate. There is some extraneous material about his own finances that was unnecessary to the story. Being the lawyer would have been enough. When he arrives (alone.. he leaves his kid with a nanny), he is met with open hostility by the locals. He has to bribe a carriage driver to take him to the estate. While attending to business he quickly spots a grave looking woman in black (hence the title) staring at him from the courtyard. She vanishes almost in front of his eyes. When he later reports this to one of the townsfolk, it has the same effect as telling a bunch of chickens that there’s a fox coming over to the chicken coop for dinner. They’re thrown into a tizzy. When a little girl is brought in by two other children and she dies in a bloody coughing fit, it really sets the town against him. He is blamed for the child’s death, because of the local ‘superstition’ that whenever anyone see the Woman In Black, a child’s death is sure to follow. he is spared from the mob, by a local man, Sam Daily, (the underrated character actor Ciarán Hinds) he met on the train. Sam has lost a family member, also, and I don’t think that one’s that hard to figure out. In fact, a lot of the film is too obvious.
It’s not a daring film, although there are long scenes where the film succeeding depends on Radcliffe to carry the film without speaking. He’s more than adequate here, but there needed to be a little more purpose to what was transpiring onscreen. It felt random a lot of the time. This is one of those stories that doesn’t exactly play fair. These sorts of films usually work best when they set up rules to be adhered to, especially for the villain. The story, while competently told, never builds to a climax. When it does have an extended sequence where Radcliffe’s hero is in eminent danger, he’s bailed out by the sudden appearance of one of the townsfolk. When the witness shows up, the danger is over and they move on to the next scene.
There’s much to like here. The story is told with a straight face. The material is taken seriously. The film is a joy to look at if you like grey skies with the curtains drawn. The film’s apparition is handled well for the most part, but you get the feeling that ghost can only mount scares (for the most part) against adults in the film. I did not like, however, how many of the subplots were telegraphed very early on to the viewer. The ‘solution’ that Kipps comes up with for dealing with the malevolent spirit is obvious. It’s been done many times before and it feels something like watching a vampire film and the characters onscreen have no clue as to deal with it, even though the audience will be well versed in the activity. It’s not poorly done, but most audiences will have seen this before. I guess that’s just the ‘trappings of the genre’. There also would not have been a film had the character acted realistically to what was going on. I’m sorry, but when Radcliffe looks up from the courtyard to see creepy floating lady looking down on him from the attic window… Sorry. There’s NO WAY anyone goes back in that house alone. And that second night… Any normal person is packing their bags for land far, far away and then you’re still going to sleep with all of the lights on for the rest of your life.
For the most part, the film avoids the overusage of CGI FX, which I liked.. The ghost was less effective when the film resorted to the repetitive use of the ghost’s ‘sudden screeching wail’. It works once in the film to some degree, but they kept going to the well. It got old. I found it interesting that the trailer also featured a key moment where the CGI FX were different for the ghost than what was actually shown during the film. The trailer shows typical ‘demon face’ cgi, the kind you can find 10 year olds doing in Adobe Premiere on youtube. What’s in the film, is a little creepier.
The film is uneven, but it works as a decent ghost story if that’s what you have a hankerin’ for. If you’re jonesin’ for a great film, then you might want to try something else. For Radcliffe, I think this worked as a transition for him from his somewhat iconic child actor role into the world of adulthood, while still keeping him in the realm of the supernatural that his hardcore fans will be familiar with. I’m sure it was all calculated by his ‘people’ to be seen as a father… a man with a serious, quiet occupation… with a beard (“Look, everybody! I can grow a beard”). He’ll probably be scrutinized closely for a while and is cautious because of it, but he can’t be judged harshly for his role in this. The Woman In Black works well enough for me to recommend it to fans of ghost stories (even if it’s only of the PG-13 variety).