Daniel Radcliffe - Arthur Kipps
Ciaran Hinds - Samuel Daily
Janet McTeer - Elizabeth Daily
Shaun Dooley - Mr. Fisher
Mary Stockley - Mrs. Fisher
Misha Handley - Joseph Kipps
Jessica Raine - Nanny
Sophie Stuckey - Stella Kipps
Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts
Running Time - 95 Minutes
During the turn of the 20th Century in England, a widower named Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) hasn't been able to cope over the death of his wife who died during childbirth years ago. Due to his depression, he's been neglecting his real estate practice. His superiors, tired of Arthur's behavior, gives him one last chance to sell the Eel Marsh House - a Gothic estate that seems to have a dark, mysterious, and violent history. For some reason, Arthur's presence near the estate has upset the locals, as well as the spirits that seemingly haunt the place - in particular a certain woman in black...
It's been a while since I've reviewed a Hammer Film - one of my favorite horror studios from England. In fact, I have yet to review any of the modern Hammer horror films that have been released since Dutch TV producer, Jon de Mol, purchased the company and revived it in 2007 after the studio closed its doors in the early 1980s. The revival has been a mixed bag of sorts. 2010's remake, LET ME IN, was great. 2011's WAKE WOOD was above average. And from what I hear, 2011's THE RESIDENT and 2014's THE QUIET ONES were pretty lackluster for the most part. One of these days, I'll review each one of these new Hammer Films. But right now, let's talk about 2012's THE WOMAN IN BLACK before the sequel is released this weekend.
Good Things: I think what I really liked about THE WOMAN IN BLACK is the look and feel of the film. It's been a while since I've watched a ghost story in a Gothic setting that actually felt like what it was advertising. Director James Watkins creates a ton of atmosphere, mood, and a slow pace that keeps you invested even when the film loses itself in some aspects. The dull and bleak cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones really enhanced the mood of the film, with Watkins investing in wide shots, mise-en-scene, and dolly shots to give the viewer a creepy ride throughout this town and Eel Marsh House. Seeing spirits rush through the frame, or stick out in the background, are things every good ghost story needs. The film, even though it had people in it, felt like an island - giving a sense of isolation throughout. Even the CGI that was used didn't bother me all that much. I thought for the most part, the visuals set the tone right making THE WOMAN IN BLACK feel more old school than modern.
I also thought the acting was pretty damn good here as well. THE WOMAN IN BLACK was Daniel Radcliffe's first post-HARRY POTTER film, and I thought he did a good job playing a wounded husband/father who was in a situation beyond his control. You kind of felt sympathy for Radcliffe's character, Arthur Kipps, as he dealt with his personal strife while also dealing with supernatural forces. To be honest with you, I think Radcliffe was more of an acteur in those HARRY POTTER films - only because he had eight films to evolve the character and make it his own - and show more emotion and depth in those films. But his subtle performance here gave you all you needed to know about the guy. He was probably way too young to play this role, but I thought he was pretty solid. The only other actors who stuck out were Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer, who had nice chemistry with Radcliffe and were given more scenery to chew on. The acting was one of the bright spots in the film.
And while predictable and cliche at times, I did enjoy the mystery aspect of the Woman in Black and what the supernatural deal was. Even though the film was adapted from a Susan Hill novel published in 1983, the adaptation seems to take certain aspects of other ghost films to tell its visual narration. But you're interested in why children are killing themselves. You wonder why the town believes in a curse and sort of blames Arthur for unleashing it again with his presence. And you're curious as to how it'll all be revealed towards its conclusion. The tragedy of this town is intriguing. And while the storytelling surrounding this plot point isn't near perfect, at least you're willing to sit through it to figure out what the hell is going on. Most modern horror films these days want to explain everything without much depth or substance behind them. At least THE WOMAN IN BLACK tries to do that, and I appreciated it. It's an old-school philosophy that I think most modern filmmakers and studios have lost along the way. Nice to see a recent film stick with what made horror so memorable and timeless, even if it doesn't work all the time for it.
And I felt THE WOMAN IN BLACK relied too heavily on jump scares. That's not too say that all of them failed to work. The one with the crow made me jump, mainly due to the loud sound design during these moments. Some others made me jump due to the sound as well. But it felt like there was a jump scare every 5 minutes, which made the next one feel less effective than the previous one. The atmosphere was creepy enough. These scares felt cheap by the fifth time. I did dig the sound design though. And that hanging scene - creepy...
Bad Things: THE WOMAN IN BLACK felt like an unfinished narrative at times. This mainly applies to the Arthur Kipps character, who actually has an interesting backstory that isn't exploited enough within the investigative portion of the film. His entire character is based around the fact that he hasn't gotten over the death of his wife and how that transitioned into a distant relationship with his son. As the film goes on, you tend to forget about this subplot because the narrative is too focused on the Eels Marsh House and the Woman in Black. The film never really focuses on the fact that Arthur's grief is what is feeding this spirit her power, as they share certain ghosts in their past that connect them in a mysterious way. And with all the children dying within the town, wouldn't that make Arthur more fearful about the situation since he's a father? He sees strange things, but never really questions them until it's too late. The townspeople dislike him, but he never asks why that is. Arthur has no urgency until it's convenient - a.k.a. flashbacks of his late wife - and never really worries for his son while all this goes on. Yeah, Arthur is distant with him, but he obviously thinks about him and loves him. The narrative felt really disjointed when it came to the two subplots. Arthur's misery should have made the Woman in Black stuff more effective because he can relate and feel the ghosts of his own past are haunting him. Arthur has a character arc that could have taken the film to places, but the script never allows that to fully happen. It's sad because I felt both subplots were interesting. They just needed to work together better.
Speaking of the script, the ending is something I'm on the fence on. Is it the worst conclusion to a ghost story ever? No, not really. But it lacked oomph and felt somewhat unsatisfying in a way. I understand why the climax occurs and what it represents in terms of Arthur's character. But it felt way too easy, too cliche, and kinda lame as the film just ends quietly. I actually asked myself, "That was it?" I've seen worse endings in horror films [at least this one didn't have a one last scare deal with annoys me by this point], but I felt the way the narrative was treated before it didn't justify a feeling of satisfaction during its conclusion. I think if the Arthur stuff was handled better within the main plot of the movie, the ending would have come across better. But it felt like a deflating balloon to me, honestly.
Like I said, the film relied on too many jump scares. It also didn't help that these took place during a long and sort of redundant second act where Arthur was investigating the mystery of the house. This portion wasn't terrible, but could have been handled in a much shorter amount of time. If more things happened during this portion, it would have come across better. Otherwise, 30 percent of it felt like filler.
THE FINAL HOWL
While it's not a perfect horror film in the slightest, I still liked THE WOMAN IN BLACK for the most part. The acting, especially by Daniel Radcliffe, was pretty solid. I loved the atmosphere and mood of the Gothic setting. And felt the visual presentation was top notch for this modern Hammer Films entry. The narrative could have been tighter, the ending a bit more satisfying, and less jump scares would have been appreciated. But overall, I thought this was a cool throwback ghost film that knew what it was and went for it. It was a stylish and elegant horror film - something that can't really be said for most modern horror. Not sure if the sequel will continue that trend, but we can only hope.