Despite what some may tell you, it is entirely possible to enjoy a film even if the overall impression is rather… meh. Of course, readers of Gores Truly will not be shocked by this. We have an entire section of “So Bad It’s Good” films, some of which are our personal favorites.
With this very idea in mind, I bring you… The Woman in Black. No, no – it’s not “so bad,” never you fear. What it is, is every bit its mild-mannered, PG-13 rating – and that’s not a bad thing at all. Youngsters still enjoy the rite of passage of being scared by movies, and very clearly – this movie was made with them in mind.
The Woman in Black is based on a 1983 novel, which since its release has spawned many incarnations – including a very popular play and telefilm in its home in jolly old England. The resurrected Hammer studio (original home of all things Gothic in film) chose to make this movie to bolster its resurgence in the horror world. Ultimately? They couldn’t have selected a better picture. And they couldn’t have done a better job in reviving the musty, dusty, cob-webbed Gothic charm of Hammer. Each scene in The Woman in Black oozes with musty, misty, dingy, antiquated sensibilities. The art direction on display here is intense – almost too good, because the major flaw in the film is that the story itself is rather lackluster and doesn’t quite live up to its surroundings. The unique and imaginative stage-plays may have given the play some needed oomph when performed live, but on-film the story is ultimately a bit of a snoozer.
Danielle Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor (a type of lawyer) in England in the early 1900′s. He is sent to the country to handle the estate of deceased local recluse, Alice Drablow – who had once lived in the dire old home with her husband, son, and sister. Once Kipps makes it past the unwelcoming neighbors to the sinister old estate, all sorts of supernatural shenanigans begin to occur. He manages to make one friend, local landowner Sam Daily (Rome‘s Ciarán Hinds) who somewhat adds to the mystical intrigue of Eel Marsh House. What’s going on in this town? Why do children die whenever the Woman in Black is seen? How does Sam seem to know what’s going on? And is there any way to stop it?
All of these questions are answered, and for the most part it is a satisfactory conclusion. The problem is – it’s never scary. At least, not for those too old to be frightened by the occasional ghostly specter lurking down a darkened hallway, in the window’s reflection, or across a waterway. All performances are excellent (in particular, Radcliffe – who based on this film alone will have quite the respected career ahead of him), but they’re simply not that affecting when there’s scant little to be terrified by. Going into the film, I was very much hoping for an Asian-Horror type experience – “did I or didn’t I see that” apparitions, ethereal and eerie sound, shocks, surprises. While I was grateful for a gore-less exercise, I ultimately wanted more Horror out of this Hammer Horror picture.
Which leads me to the conclusion that it wasn’t made for me. The Woman in Black was made for the younger generation, to ease them into horror in one of the best and gentlest ways possible: Solid performances, other-worldly Gothic set pieces, and a universal ghost story of love, jealousy, and death. For that? I can thoroughly recommend and encourage its viewing. Maybe Daniel Radcliffe – or someone like him – can be the next generation’s Vincent Price. Wishful thinking perhaps, but until then, one can dream.