The Woman in Black

Best Movie with Candles of 2012


Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds

Review written by Robert Patrick

In The Woman in Black, Daniel Radcliffe dresses like Ichabod Crane, skulks about in darkness, and occasionally asks, “is anybody there?”, as he carries a candle the size of a Parthenon pillar.  The movie ticks every conventional horror cliché and checks it twice. Creaking doors, fog thicker than a vanilla shake, doe-eyed children engaging in creepy behavior – it’s all there. The James Watkins film is an amalgamation of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, a throwaway episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, and general mediocrity. The set design – an ominous, abandoned manor that looks like last year’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark threw up on it – is full of floorboards that make more squeaking noises than a Chicago Bulls basketball game.

Radcliffe plays a stoic, downtrodden lawyer that agrees to handle the business aspects of the dreary estate. Of course the menacing abode is located on a marsh, one that has taken the lives of a small child that, in the grandiose fashion of predictable horror films, is the cause of great ghostly malevolence. This marsh is so muddy, gooey, rife with danger that it was surely the same one that claimed Artax’s life in The Neverending Story. Because Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is in dire straights, financially, he must venture to the ghostly estate and flip through leaf upon leaf of weathered documents – and fend off the spirit of a wicked lady.

As the story goes, the Woman in Black claims the life of a nearby villager’s child every time she is seen. Radcliffe, while haplessly hunkering around the estate, manages to catch sight of the morose ghost, causing unabridged havoc and equal parts boredom to ensue. Radcliffe spends most of the film reciting three lines – “Who is it?”, “Is anyone there?” and “I’m not crazy” – sort of like a neurotic pull-string doll. Strangely, despite the estate being the size of an aircraft carrier, the film, for some reason or another, only shows two rooms and a hallway; perhaps the set designer ran out of funding for creepy monkey toys. After all, the interior looks like it was decorated by Dustin Hoffman’s character from Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Dust-crusted trinkets and 18th century dolls lay, strewn about, as if they were waiting for Antiques Roadshow to appraise them all. This isn’t so much scary as it is exciting – these toys could be worth a fortune!

The Woman in Black isn’t completely drab, contrived, uninspired. There are sneaky scenes of visceral intensity that pop and bubble. The camerawork can seem a little dizzying (I imagine this is what Sonny Liston saw after a right jab from Muhammad Ali), but there are occasionally moments where creepiness seeps into the frame. The rest of the movie, sadly, is like being on House Hunters: Old England Edition. How many times can we see the same staircase, hallway, bedroom as nothing happens. It doesn’t help that Radcliffe has the emotive capacity of a grandfather clock.

The Woman in Black seems less like a film and more like a SyFy Channel original movie. There are hokey moments, complete with loud bangs and cheap scares, that are accompanied by blaring horns. The dialogue sounds stiff and rushed. The scenes of shock and terror are really just loud. Sometimes, when a film is released that is as slack jawed and half-hearted as this one, it’s bound to be on Netflix streaming in three months. Save your cash and go watch The Innocents with Deborah Kerr.

2 out of 5

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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