For the first time I can remember, I couldn’t decide which movie to see this week. Big Miracle and The Woman in Black seemed equally likely to be okay, but neither inspired me. I actually ended up flipping a coin. Heads The Woman in Black, tails Big Miracle. Heads it was. If nothing else, it would be a chance to see whether Daniel Radcliffe is having as much success at being a grown up as Zac Efron, since he plays the lead character in this 1980s horror remake.
A young lawyer dispatched to settle the estate of a rich widow is haunted by the spectre of a woman in black when he visits her desolate old house.
As you can see, The Woman in Black is a classic haunted house story. I say “classic” because it’s set in Victorian times and the characters are all British, not because I think every obscure 1980s horror film can be considered a classic. I wasn’t expecting much from it, and I didn’t have to sleep with the lights on afterward, but there quite a few genuinely scary blips, so I guess you could say it succeeds.
You may remember me wondering in my trailer review why Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) the young lawyer sent to the house to sort through the paperwork, doesn’t just get the hell out of dodge when things start getting weird. Well, they answered that question in the first few minutes of the film. Arthur’s wife is dead, his son Joseph (Misha Handley) is only four, and if he doesn’t get out of his funk and close a case he’s going to get fired by the firm.
Sorry, sweetheart, Daddy’s got to go be terrorized by a ghost.
But he’ll bring you back some ectoplasm.
Even that wouldn’t be enough to keep ME in a haunted house (you can always get another job as long as you’re not dead) so they also situated the house at the end of a long, creepy road through a salt marsh that’s only exposed at high tide and filled the nearby village with singularly unhelpful people who all have mysteriously dead children, thus ensuring that Arthur is stuck in the house – or at least on the island the house is perched on – for at least six hours at a time before he can get a ride out.
Why you would want to live way out here is beyond me.
I’m not going to sit here and complain that it’s the five millionth haunted house film made and it’s therefore unoriginal, because I don’t really care. With a horror movie, the originality of the plot is less important than whether or not it can give you little heart attacks while you’re watching it. And it did. Other people are the scariest thing to me, so lots of eyeballs and faces and hands appeared and disappeared out of nowhere, right when you were hoping they wouldn’t but knew they would.
Gah, and they’re all so CLOSE!
The trouble is that director James Watkins seemed to be almost TOO good at these little scares, because the whole middle hour of the film is riddled with them. There are so many that eventually people in the theater started laughing when they happened because they needed to let out the tension somehow. The film could’ve used a few moments of comic relief. Actually, it could have used a bit more plot progression as well to distract us from the fact that Arthur spends most of the movie slowly exploring the house trying to trace sounds and sights that he could not possibly have convinced himself were natural and/or imagined.
Yes, Arthur, we’ve established that chairs don’t rock themselves. The house is haunted. Can we move on?
One option would be to allow us to bond with Arthur and follow his personal journey into horror and/or madness, but Daniel Radcliffe is as blank as a promotional cutout of Harry Potter that has been dressed in Victorian garb and carted from scene to scene. While his blankness is a relief from Harry’s incessant grimacing and face-making, it’s a far cry from Zac Efron and his surprising ability to emote without making me roll my eyes.
He hardly talks, either, like one of those mute video game protagonists.
The interesting part for me was Arthur’s new friend Daily (Ciaran Hinds) – who also happens to be the only one in town whose not an angry nutbar. His son, like most of the other kids in town, died under mysterious circumstances, so he’s willing to help Arthur try to save the town from the malevolent woman in black and her creepy dead son. In fact, I found this part so interesting that the ending, which doesn’t really tie up any of the loose ends and is totally predictable, was a letdown.
Excuse me while I pretend it never happened.
So is it a good horror movie? Ish. It’s not bad. I was tense and creeped out (largely thanks to the ghost boy’s room full of freaky monkey toys) but I didn’t take anything away from it. As soon as I left the theater, I was fine. I had no desire to share the scariness with friends. So if you’re looking for a horror movie that will scare you while you’re watching but let you sleep at night, The Woman in Black is for you.