Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Film Review: The Woman in Black (2012)

A good ghost story seems hard to find in modern films; too many rely on shock tactics, whether it be via gore or something jumping out of a wall, to build up that sense of terror that can be achieved just from watching a door handle slowly start to turn. The Woman in Black is a welcome return to ghost story telling of the past, and though it's a different beast to the play and book that precedes it, the film still offers a genuinely frightening and entertaining experience.

Based on the book by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black follows the experiences of Arthur Kip, a recently widowed solicitor trying to bring up his child on his own. He is sent off to deal with the massive amount of paperwork in Eel Marsh House, after the death of it's owner Mrs. Drablow. From the moment he arrives in the nearby village it's clear that there's something wrong and it doesn't take long before he starts to see a spectre, that may or may not be his imagination...

Anyone familiar with the original story should know that they have made some substantial changes in this adaptation. But it does ensure that there are surprises in store for anyone who has seen the play, though it's at the price of the clever hook and ending that both the book and play rely on. This is definitely a simplified version of the tale, though no less enjoyable for it. The tone and atmosphere are spot on though; Eel Marsh House is terrifying, the locals are suitable suspicious and superstitious, and there are some truly spooky moments throughout. It relies a little too much on the long pan shots, so that something is revealed as the camera moves around, but it has the desired effect of creeping out the audience. And, until some shock-tactic moments nearer the end, that's how this film tries to scare you - with a slow build, sometimes with no result, sometimes with a deeply unsettling one. Like any good ghost story it relies on your own fears and imagination.

Victorian houses are creepy. Movies have taught me this.
Mention must be made of Danial Radcliffe's performance, as there's been a lot of "Harry Potter versus the woman in black" fears. Personally I thought he did a fine job, though his youth was at odds with the character he was playing. Arthur Kipps, to me, is an older man who has seen something of the world, hence his unwillingness to believe what starts to happen to him. Kipps in the version is too young to be that experienced, so instead he's played as a young grieving man. Radcliffe is more convincing as the film progresses (his opening scene felt a little clunky to me) and more than manages to handle the weight of the film being on his shoulders.

The version in the play is still probably my favourite (followed by the book) but this latest film adaptation is more than able to hold its own against them. If old fashioned scares, akin to the original The Haunting, or The Innocents, is your thing, then I highly recommend The Woman in Black. The slow pace may not be to everyone's taste, but this is a much needed return of the old British ghost story and it should have you turning all the lights on when you get home.

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