Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
In a year where at least four of the Best Picture nominees are homages to earlier film styles, the horror genre hasn’t had as many trips back in time. Sure there’s movies that play on the conventions of older movies, the less is more approach, but many haven’t perfected the combination of scares and story. While The Woman in Black is far from perfect, mainly due to the lackluster acting of its leading man, its scares are genuine, although what does one expect from the Hammer Horror Studio?
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a lawyer preparing the estate for a recently deceased woman in a small English village. While he doesn’t want to go, it would provide the necessary money to provide his young son who he’s raising after the death of his wife. Upon entering the town he discovers the legend of a mysterious woman in black who has been killing the children for decades, and Arthur’s life might be in peril.
The key factor that works for The Woman in Black is the horror. This isn’t a blood and gore, Saw-like movie. It’s more in line with classic haunted house films like The Haunting or the more recent The Others, where the fear is in the shadows and pervading darkness that surrounds the characters. When Arthur is alone in the house the slight movement out of the corner of his eye does all the work. Sure the horror becomes more overt towards the conclusion of the film with the woman in black becoming a physically entity (and looking a bit too much like the woman in Insidious for my taste) but it’s never short of effective.
My personal favorite element of the film was its reliance on sounds and old toys. Anyone who knows me is aware that I find old toys incredibly scary and this film plays on that fear. Arthur continuously goes into a nursery filled with porcelain dolls, harlequin clowns, and windup toys that look cute but upon further inspection look demented. When they start moving and playing by themselves watch out! Kudos to the director for highlighting that element.
Director James Watkins made a movie a few years back called Eden Lake that I really enjoyed (and not just because it has a pre-fame Michael Fassbender). The Woman in Black shares a few things in common with that film, especially its ending. I won’t spoil it but suffice it to say it’s bold for this movie. Certain things are established and Watkins and crew smash them with a train, literally. The audience in my theater didn’t enjoy the ending, and in some ways it left me with a few too many questions, but A) I didn’t think the movie could have ended differently and B) it was completely unexpected so well-done!
The film does have its flaws. At only 95 minutes it feels rushed towards the end and it shouldn’t, especially with that ending. I continuously felt like something was missing, a crucial element of the story wasn’t being explained. Upon leaving the theater I had a few questions that I don’t think were properly resolved, almost like some things were cut out in order to keep the pace short. While the majority of the actors are great, our leading man just can’t seem to break out of his Harry Potter shell. Other critics are quick to mention how young Radcliffe looks to have a four-year-old, but I found him completely boring. Radcliffe spends the entire movie looking around and trying to be scared but I never felt his terror. He says every line with an earnest look on his face and in certain scenes he looks almost air-brushed due to the soft lighting on his face. When the soft lighting isn’t used you can tell his skin is quite acne riddled, yet the soft lighting makes him look like a Barbie Doll. I just never connected with him because he’s not charismatic. He reminded me a lot of Tintin in that the character is boring and the adventures around him are what’s exciting.
The Woman in Black is an effective horror film with a killer ending. While Radcliffe isn’t cementing himself as a leading man, it’s the film around him that ultimately pays off.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.