May 28, 2012

Movie on Monday: The Woman in Black
DIRECTED BY: James Wakins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Running time: 95 minutes

The Woman in Black” is a love letter to those old horror flicks from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s when horror wasn’t so dependent on violence and gore, but much more on atmosphere, set design and suspense. Here we have a movie that uses these characteristics to great affect but is almost undone by one crucial flaw…

A young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), struggling with work after the death of his wife, is sent to a remote village to settle the estate of a deceased eccentric woman who owns an English manor. The village residents want him to leave as they are trying to conceal a deadly secret. But he refuses, and soon discovers that the house of his client is haunted by the vengeful ghost of a woman dressed in black. (Source: imdb)

First the good stuff: This movie is a feast for the senses. It’s almost brilliant in the way it uses the gorgeous English countryside to evoke the mood and terror of the story. Technically, everything works: It has some genuine scares and real tension. The cinematography makes the audience feel as if they were right in the middle of this haunted mansion. The very first scene made my blood freeze: Three little girls are having a tea party. Suddenly they all get up, walk to the window and jump, committing suicide. It’s a chilling, unforgettable moment that gives you a sense of what you’re in for. Did I mention the movie was PG-13? (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games!)

I also really liked the supporting players. Ciaran Hinds and Janet Mcteer play a middle aged couple still grieving for the son they lost in a drowning accident years ago. They try to help Arthur get to the bottom of the strange happenings in the village. Hinds is especially good in the way he bonds with Arthur, given that his late son would have been Arthur’s age.

In terms of the story there really isn’t much there, but then again, maybe there’s not supposed to be. This is all about the mood and atmosphere. The direction is the real star here, and it’s most impressive the way director James Watkins allows the scenes to breathe, letting the tension slowly creep in. I’m sure some people will get annoyed by the long scenes of Arthur simply walking through the mansion, but I appreciated the quietness of it.

Now for the near fatal flaw: Daniel Radcliffe.
I want to be absolutely clear: Radcliffe is a wonderful actor. And I’m not just talking about his performances as YOU-KNOW-WHO, but he has genuine range and talent. For example, if you get the chance, check out “My Boy Jack” where he played Rudyard Kipling’s son. In “The Woman in Black” he is unfortunately miscast. I’m sorry, but Radcliffe is simply too young to be believable as a lawyer/widower/single father of a 4 year-old boy. It’s not a bad performance, Radcliffe does what he can, but I found his youth to be distracting. This is a showcase of grief, and therefore calls for a more experienced actor, someone who actually looks like he’s experienced life, someone like James McAvoy or Michael Fassbender. This is a movie in which a lot depends on its protagonist, and Radcliffe just doesn't quite cut it here.

I’m also not too crazy about the ending. It’s relentlessly disturbing in its idea, but I didn’t like the way Watkins sugarcoated it in the very last moments of the movie, shoving in hope where despair was the way to go.

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about this movie, but I am recommending it based upon the things it does really well, the technical aspect of it. It’s very scary in places and in today’s horror, that’s no small thing.

Watch the trailer:

About the Author

Profile-photoVjekoslav Rosandić is a 26-year old movie critic who has already made a name for himself locally, contributing movie reviews for TV and various media outlets in print and online. As of recently he writes editorials for Around the Networks. Vjekoslav holds a Master's degree in English and Philosophy and is currently employed as university librarian. When he's not watching movies, he's reading or hanging out with his fabulous girlfriend.

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