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The Woman In Black

Let me begin by first stating that I have never watched a Harry Potter film.  Although I consider myself more of a Frodo guy than a Quidditch aficionado, I remember watching the Jim Jonesian frenzy over the Potter novels and then subsequent movies and thinking I didn’t want to become assimilated. On the one occasion that I proposed watching a Potter film, just to see what all the hubbub was about, my wife looked at me quite seriously and asked, “Do we really want to be one of those people?” She knows me all too well.

And so I went into “The Woman in Black” expecting very little. Indeed, five minutes in and I was chuckling smarmily at the thought that anyone could buy Daniel Radcliffe as an adult, much less the father of a 4 year old boy!  Fifteen minutes later, I had forgotten who Harry Potter even was, and after an hour I was just trying to keep from crying out in fear in front of my wife. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The Woman in Black” is Radcliffe’s first post-Potter foray into film, based on a 1983 novel by Susan Hill. The story was first adapted into a successful play, and then a well received British serial, before gothic horror legend Hammer Films began production on this new adaptation of the novel in 2010. “The Woman In Black” tells the story of Aurthur Kipps (played by Radcliffe), an attorney who is sent to a remote village on the eastern end of the United Kingdom to settle the estate of a recently deceased widow. Kipps begins to have visions of a ghostly apparition in black, and is forced to unravel the terrible connection between the apparition and the violent deaths of the town’s children.

Ciarán Hinds

The first thing that struck me about this film was the slow, methodical pacing. It takes its time establishing Kipps’ character, his family life and his own tragic past, all against a haunting backdrop of rolling hills and black marshes. The sense of creeping dread is palpable, and perfectly suited to this type of Victorian Gothic horror.

Radcliffe plays a good protagonist, a role that didn’t require much dialogue. He is supported by Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer, who play a rich couple who befriend the attorney Kipps. Hinds is particularly well cast as the rational minded skeptic who repeatedly warns Kipps not to go chasing shadows in his search for the truth.

Make no mistake, although this is an old fashioned horror film, the scares are quite modern. This is “The House of Usher” meets “The Grudge”. Director James Watkins inserts an insidious creepiness into every frame, including a collection of the most terrifying dolls known to man. Special mention must be made of the clown toy with serrated, human teeth, who I am confident will be haunting me in some sugar induced nightmare to come.

Janet McTeer

The only issue I have with Mr. Watkins’ direction was the inclusion of what I consider too many cheap scares. Long moments of silence, punctuated by a loud noise that ends up coming from bad pipes, leaves a viewer feeling cheap and used. There were a bit too many of these moments, and in my opinion, the film didn’t need them. It was genuinely terrifying enough.

Even though there isn’t anything in “The Woman in Black” that you haven’t seen before, it is all done so very well as to seem brand new. The ending, which may be a bit predictable for horror fans, was still pulled off with enough panache as to satisfy even the most jaded fans of the genre.

I went into this film expecting mediocrity at best, and I left with a pain in my chest. When it comes to horror films, that’s a good thing. In the Hammer Films tradition, this is a throwback to an earlier age. “The Woman In Black” is creepier, jumpier, and more terrifying  than most of the horror fare out there, while relying on little to no gore to pull it all off.

And in this day and age, that ain’t easy to do.

 

Robert Garcia

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