The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Friday, February 3, 2012

Woman in Black Review

Just came back from seeing The Woman in Black. Rather surprisingly, it was only on one screen at my multiplex...the earlier show was sold out, and it looked like my show sold out too. I wonder how preview audiences liked it...if they reacted anything like the folks at the show I saw, it must've previewed real well, which makes the movie's underestimation by the powers that be all the more remarkable. This thing is going to get sensational word of mouth, and I bet its take will be way up on Saturday.

Movie was produced, in part, by Hammer, who haven't done anything in the horror field for about thirty years. Now, there's been a lot of twaddle from reviewers saying that the movie's an attempt to revive old-style Hammer horror, but Hammer never made anything like it. Hammer horror films were mainly about tits and gore in Technicolor. There was generally very little in the way of atmosphere, and there were almost never anything like real scares...their scariest movie, as a matter of fact, was The Crawling Eye, which was actually SF. The production values in their horror films were generally bottom of the barrel and they had these little tiny ridiculous sets, but people overlooked this because everything was in pretty good flaming Technicolor. I like Hammer movies, grew up on them in fact, and I'm a big Peter Cushing/Chris lee fan. But if you look at the Hammer product, and compare it to the stuff Roger Corman was doing, it pales horribly in comparison.

Now, if you wanted frightening movies, movies really intended to frighten and not merely titillate, you had to go elsewhere entirely, to things like The Uninvited, and The Haunting. The Changeling, operating in a similar vein, was genuinely scary...some of those J-horror films from the early 2000's were too. Woman In Black has vastly more in common with things like that, and it's a whole lot more successful than a lot of the horror crap that that's been coming out lately. I've read some reviews of it saying that it's not scary, and that you can't make a scary haunted house/ghost movie anymore...well that's horseshit, as anyone who ever saw Hideo Nakata's Dark Water would tell you.

As for Woman in Black, I don't know what movie these idiots saw. It had the audience genuinely freaked. It was pretty startling listening to them. At one point, after a particularly nasty jolt, this kid behind me whined, "I just pissed my pants." He didn't seem to think it was funny. Later on, when the movie was over, he whimpered, "I just wanna go home!" There seemed to be a bunch of folks who were making beelines for the exits simply because they'd been worked over. Seriously.

Most of the buzz concerning this thing revolved around the fact that it stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Potter role...some people dismissed it as a scary movie for chicks. Well Mr. Radcliffe works just fine, but he isn't the film's motor by a long shot. I'm not familiar with the source material, a novel by Susan Hill, but much of the movie's power seems to emanate from there; there have already been other adaptations, and there's a play in London that's been running for quite some time. This isn't to take anything away from the direction, by James Watkins; the guy really serves up a ton of solid scares after a good slow burn. The photography is exactly what's required and the setting (an island that's cut off from the mainland at high tide) is impressively realized. The scary imagery, real icewater on your scalp stuff, is quite disturbing, and there's enough of it to take your mind off the story's absurdities, such as why our hero would stick around the haunted house when it's so pickin' Hellish and the tide's gone down, and he could just leave and never come back.


The ostensible reason is that he's a lawyer sent to look over Papers; since his wife died, he's been fumbling his job a lot, apparently, and his superiors have made it very clear that if he blows yet another assignment, he's out. Still, any relatively rational individual would've booked a lot sooner than Daniel Radcliffe does...of course, if he did, we wouldn't have the movie.

Ciaran Hinds plays a rich guy who befriends him even though the most of the locals won't help; their kids are being murdered by the titular woman, who lost her own boy and is doing in everybody's whelps out of spite. The suicides of the kiddies, under her tutelage, are most unsettling, and the scene where Radcliffe, trying to placate the ghost, retrieves her dead son from a coach sunken in deep liquid mud, will have you wishing you'd gone to see something else. All in all, the film really works...every time it tries to scare you, does. I hate to sound like a studio shill, but you should just go right out and see this thing.

Quite aside from the sheer quality of the scares, by the way, I was intrigued by the similarities between the story and your classic Asian ghost stories. Don't know what the deal is here. The original novel came out long before the J-horror craze, and the basic elements of the story probably weren't derivative... generally, in something like Chinese Ghost Story, you've got some young clerical type (a Confucian scholar, or a tax collector, or a Buddhist or Taoist monk) running afoul of a female ghost and there being lots of water. Here we've got Radcliff'e character being a lawyer who runs afoul of a female ghost on an island that's cut off by water for hours at a time...obviously, the thing with the tide is a plot device to keep Radcliffe isolated in this scary place, but it also fits in with the Asian archetype..

Just interesting, that's all.