Modern horror runs the gamut, from old-fashioned ghost stories to torture porn and everything in between. What’s nice about this genre is that there’s something for everyone. Maybe you prefer to cuddle up to a creepy tale and don’t like blood and guts and grave-busting. Maybe you feel like an adventurous encounter with cannibals in the jungle. Perhaps you’ve jumped on the zombie bandwagon, either for the Lord of the Flies survival aspect or the social commentary.
Fans of gothic horror in its purest form will probably take kindly to the Nathaniel Hawthorne-esque The Woman in Black, which was our first glimpse of Daniel Radcliffe without a red and yellow knit scarf and round black glasses back in 2012. Craig and I were eager to cover this one in one of our earlier episodes.
The tale begins as Arthur Kipps leaves his only son behind with his nanny to travel to a remote, mist-covered British village at the behest of his employer. His job is to settle the estate of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow at the Eel Marsh manor, which is haunted by a mysterious woman (in black, believe it or not) who still holds an iron grip on the townspeople below.
The Woman in Black is a predictable ghost story, and that is its downfall. Though well-made and beautiful to watch, you know exactly where it’s going at any given time and you are always right. With nothing novel to offer, you might even find yourself falling asleep while pretty much nothing happens for the first hour.
Radcliffe makes a decent performance, given his character is relegated to wandering around disturbed and confused for most of the film. You’ll either groan at or be delighted by cliche after cliche, laid on thicker than the rolling fog in every outdoor scene. It won’t take long to guess at what is going on, and depending on your mood you might just enjoy that ride for what it is.
Dripping as it does with atmosphere, it would make a terrific theme for one of those haunted house walkthroughs in the big city. But as a ghost story, it has nothing new to offer and doesn’t advance the genre in any way. But what more can you expect of a movie based on a 1983 novel, which also formed the basis for the second-longest running play in the West End? I hear the stage version is terrifying. But without some modification, its modern-day peers on the screen eat it for breakfast.
My wife loves the classic Roger Corman movies starring Vincent Price, which are heavy on gothic atmosphere and character but light on real scares. The Woman in Black holds way more in common with those films than most anything you’ll find made after 1970. If that’s your bag, you’ll probably enjoy the predictable chills of this movie. If not, you may end up mostly bored, like I was.
If you were interested in this movie before I scared you away, I highly suggest seeking out The Orphanage – similar in tone, with nothing gross, but boasting a much better story and pacing.
Now that you’ve seen the film…
********* SPOILER ALERT ************
Seeing that this film is crammed with nearly every cliche the genre has to offer, I kept a list:
- candles mysteriously flickering out
- creepy clowns
- mechanical toys that start up on their own
- empty rocking chair that rocks and then stops suddenly
- mysterious muddy footprints
- rattling doorknobs with no one behind them
- “it’s only a cat” jump scares
- “it’s only a crow” jump scares
- handprints materializing on the window
- creepy kids
- frightened townspeople
- apparition in the window
- graveyard in the woods
- blood-scrawled writing on the wall
Am I missing anything? Is there even anything left?