Review of The Woman in Black

Written by Markus Robinson, edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Markus Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images

Yet another old fashioned and all too predictable ghost story (by today’s standards), sloppily adapted into a feature length film, “The Woman in Black” is a forgettable attempt by Daniel Radcliffe to shed his Harry Potter image. Directed by James Watkins (The Descent: Part 2), adapted for the big screen in unimpressive fashion by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) and starring the aforementioned Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter series), this film tells a ghost story set in the creepiest village in England.

Oh, how original. The plot is centered around the tale of a ghost-woman or “woman in black” who haunts a gloomy old mansion in this village, every so often coming out to terrorize the residents by making their children kill themselves. A young lawyer/single father comically named Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) must travel to said village and enter the haunted house (mansion) because…well because every story needs conflict I’m guessing. In fact, it isn’t even important why he goes into the mansion at all, because once there he must go through the hacky haunted house routines which every audience member has paid to see. He must stay overnight in the haunted mansion (for some reason), investigate weird noises coming from that room down the hall, walk up and down creaky flights of stairs, see scary faces in the window and then rub his eyes only to find that the faces have gone, etc. To say the least, the protagonist’s actions are not only predictable, but also laughable at times. Very early on it will ring clear to the audience, that knowing who certain people are or why Daniel Radcliffe, aka Mr. Kipps, doesn’t leave the house after he is attacked by the woman in black the first time, is irrelevant. But here is the kicker: storyline aside, acting aside, horrid editing (some of the worst I have seen in modern cinema) aside, there are legitimate scares here! And it pains me to say this, but scares which are so legitimate, that they may be worth paying to see for some viewers.

“The Woman in Black” is a film that relies EXCLUSIVELY on pop-out scares (things jumping out of corners, sudden loud noises after long stints of silence, etc.) and extreme close ups on creepy children’s wind-up toys. And as horror film 101 as that may seem, director James Watkins makes these simplistic scares highly entertaining. Even through the far too tedious Scooby-Doo routines (where Radcliffe chases the ghost into one room, meanwhile the ghost runs into an adjacent room chasing Radcliffe, which occur over and over again for the entirety of the film) Watkins succeeds in keeping most audiences in a constant state of suspense, by creating a domino effect of cheap but very effective scares.

The real problem with “The Woman in Black” basically stems from the filler, or instances during the movie where the scares are not happening. Whenever one of the characters has to read something or talk to someone the movie screeches to a halt. And even though Watkins does a good job of producing scares, the film still contains major camera work problems, for instance: There are long sequences where tons of reading of letters and documents must be done by the audience, to obtain back-story on the infamous woman in black. But when these close-ups on all too important old, tattered letters, written in illegible cursive are presented, as an audience member I could barely make out what they said. Therefore, missing much of the back-story to the point where I simply stopped paying attention to the story all together. But the biggest issue with this film comes into play often, and it has to do with the villain (the woman in black). A horror film usually lives or dies on how powerful or threatening the “bad guy” is. In the case of this woman in black (and I don’t want to give too much away) while she does have murderous rage, she doesn’t seem to be able to physically hurt anybody. She gives off this high pitch screams and runs at you, and that is about it. And yes, while she does make children kill themselves, if one doesn’t have children then this woman in black is only about as annoying as a common housefly. If fact, the blandness of this villain is a huge reason this film doesn’t work.

As for Radcliffe, who goes from fighting Sirius Black to the woman in black, he doesn’t give that bad of a performance here. It is just a shame that he is horrendously miscast. His character is presented as a father of a young child, when he himself looks like a 16-year-old boy. And to make matters worse, when he ventures off into the old English village, he is surrounded by parents that also have small children, but said parents are all visibly in their forties and fifties. So, due to a strange lack of make-up, the baby-face of Radcliffe only made him seem that much younger amidst his weathered supporting cast.

Final Thought: If after reading this review and you still wish to see this, maybe you don’t know how to read. But my advice would be, to have a good time with this material,pay no attention to the nonsensical and barely applicable storyline or the downright confusing ending, because it doesn’t take away from the fact that “The Woman in Black” holds around ten legitimate scares throughout. In saying that, I am still in no way recommending this film to people who are interested in an entertaining storyline, or a well done scary movie, or simply a good film.

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