‘The Woman In Black’ Review
Atmospheric and creepy ghost story despite some flaws.
Ghost stories have been plenty in the horror genre, but they’ve been becoming a rare occurrence today in a world where gore and violence takes precedence. ‘The Woman in Black’, starring Danielle Radcliffe in his first post-Potter role, almost goes back in time to offer an atmospheric and spooky old-school horror film that might not satisfy everyone with its style of scares and thin plotting but ends on a surprisingly powerful note.
The film follows a young widowed lawyer (Radcliffe) who travels on an assignment to a remote village where he learns of a mysterious force known as the ‘woman in black’ that has been terrorizing the locals but also harming the children of the village. As he delves deeper into the mystery, he realizes that the legend is far more terrifying than he thought.
It’s clear that the movie wants to sell itself as an old school period horror film that relies mainly on chilling atmosphere and spooky scares rather than gore or violence and it has a perfect set-up for that. Stories that involve a local legend of this sort and especially a medieval British setting lends itself best to an atmospheric old-school chiller so props to the filmmakers for making it that way. And in terms of atmosphere, ‘The Woman in Black’ delivers in droves. A sense of dread and fear is built throughout the movie as every location is well-designed and looks extremely creepy. The set-design here is spectacular and adds a lot of atmosphere to the film, making the proceedings all the more chilly. Add to that possibly one of the creepiest collection of antique toys every put on film. Just close-up shots of those toys in motion might be some of the strongest scares of the film.
Speaking of scares, the movie is decidely old-school with its tactics. And this is where opinions will differ. Horror is obviously a subjective genre and many might not like the restrained and slow-burn approach that the film takes to its scares while others might find it a refreshing approach to horror. Personally, I found that it was largely effective in creeping the audience out even though it resorted to slow cheap thrills at many points early on. By cheap thrills, I mean the kind of scares that anyone who has seen a lot of horror movies will easily project and that sort of dilutes the scare factor early on. But the second half of the movie significantly ramps up the tension and doesn’t let go all the way until the end. It’s much more scary and grabs the audience, which is where I really think the film succeeds. It definitely is a terrifying experience even without the crutches of gore and violence, which is a hard feat to achieve.
But there are problems when you talk about the plot and pacing of the film. Simply put, it takes way too long to get going and most audience members will be irked by that fact. We are treated to pages of dialogue scenes that are verbose but in the end don’t really give us a dense plot to chew upon. In fact, the plot here is pretty straightforward and thin which would have been fine if it didn’t always cut to long drawn-out dialogue scenes that reduced the momentum. The legend that the film runs upon is somewhat muddled all the way until the third act when it actually begins to form and make complete sense. Which brings me to the ending. Now, this will be the most divisive ending in opinion and there will be people who will hate the way it ends because this is not the way PG-13 ghost movies of this sort usually end. Personally, I loved the ending because it was ballsy, daring and completely surprised me that the film would take such a direction and end on such a powerful note. It even makes the core story all the more frightening, and overall elevates the film from an above-average horror film to something that horror fans should check out.
The obvious question on everyone’s mind is whether Danielle Radcliffe succeeds in the role that isn’t called Harry Potter. And the result is a mixed bag, not because of Radcliffe’s ability (he’s a very good actor) but because of the fact that he felt miscast for the film. The character is a widowed lawyer with a child and Radcliffe doesn’t look authentic in either of those traits. Maybe three years later he would, but he still carries that teenage vibe with him and in the beginning it hurts your experience seeing him fake an elder look. But as the film goes in, he gets more comfortable with the character and we as the audience get more comfortable with him in the role and that’s when he actually shows off his chops. It’s clear that the entire movie is built around his star-power and suffice to say that the man carries the film on his shoulders. Props to him for choosing this risky horror film when he could have done anything he wanted to.
For horror genre lovers, ‘The Woman in Black’ is a recommended watch not only because it resurrects the Hammer Films studio in a successful manner but also because it’s a spooky affair that manages to scare audiences despite its flaws. Give it a watch for a restrained but effective horror film.