Review – The Woman In Black (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 2/5

For years now, the horror genre seems to have lost its way. Few horror films, such as Audition, Martyrs and The Orphanage, have been genuinely scary. More often than not, horror movies have been poor excuses for comedy, such as Jennifer’s Body and The Wolfman. The Woman In Black continues this worrying trend for a genre that’s in a crisis.

Arthur approaching the derelict Eel Marsh House. Who would want to go in there during the day, let alone stay overnight?

The Woman In Black is based on the book with the same title by Susan Hill, which has also been adapted to the theatre. The film is set at the turn of the twentieth-century. It is about Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter I-VII(ii), Kill Your Darlings), a young lawyer and single parent, following the death of his wife, Stella (Sophie Stuckey – Driving Aphrodite, The Dark, Comedown). Arthur is on his final warning at the solicitor’s firm he works for. Consequently, when he is given the task of managing the estate of Alice Drablow, who owned Eel Marsh House, a mansion in the middle of nowhere in the gloomy north-east of England, he cannot say no.

The estate is old and slowly rotting. No-one has lived there for years. Those who dwell in the nearest village, except for Daily (Ciarán Hinds – The Debt, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John Carter), who befriends Arthur, urge Arthur to stay away from Eel Marsh House. The villagers believe that the estate is haunted.

Arthur, though, is determined to see his task through and goes to Eel Marsh House to do his investigation. But whoever goes there sees the woman in black. And whenever she’s seen, children die mysteriously soon afterward…

The movie’s plot is as original as The Wolfman and Fright Night. Alike those laughable films, The Woman In Black has merely a few instances of the shock-factor. One would think that a creepy horror thriller would hold its audience in suspense, as The Shining and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer did so well. But, akin to Jennifer’s Body, The Woman In Black hardly makes the adrenaline pump.

Daily (Ciarán Hinds), sitting in his armchair in his home, listening to Arthur tell him about how he has seen the woman in black over a glass of whiskey.

The Woman In Black’s storyline is made to look even worse because it makes as much sense as John Carpenter’s (abominable) The Ward. By the end of the film, amongst many failings, one knows little more about the woman in black than when he/she started the movie. Viewers are aware that this dead woman has an eye for vengeance, but what drives her? Why does she appear every time a child dies in the local village? (Indeed, why would she limit herself to that small place when she can terrorise all of England or the world?) One cannot help but ask oneself why director James Watkins (Eden Lake) did not at least try to explain the woman in black’s motives.

The plot’s poverty is reflected in the acting (even if the script gives them little chance to shine). Daniel Radcliffe hardly plays better here than he did in the Harry Potter series. He shows little emotion when trying to be affectionate towards his infant son, or when he is grieving for his deceased wife. This entails that viewers cannot feel anything for Arthur when he has to temporarily leave his son to go to Eel Marsh House. Radcliffe is also unable to shirk off his type-cast in The Woman In Black. As a result, whenever phantoms go near Arthur, one secretly believes that Harry – I mean Arthur – will simply pull out the Elder Wand and zap the dark ghosts into oblivion. This undermines Radcliffe’s attempt to be a professional solicitor in this movie.

Similarly, the quality of the acting from the supporting cast fairs equally badly. The usually reliable Ciarán Hinds performs below his normal standards as Daily. Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds, Island, Albert Nobbs), Daily’s wife, appears little in the film, and when she is given screen-time she plays a two-dimensional mentally unwell person. And the rest of the cast, the villagers, merely play one-dimensional unwelcoming, superstitious freaks, meaning that the audience cannot relate to them or take them seriously.

Arthur holding an axe, scared, as he goes upstairs to investigate where the noise is coming from in the abandoned estate.

Just like the acting, the make-up and special effects in The Woman In Black are neither poor nor noteworthy. The woman in black, herself, just looks like a gaunt and hideous doll behind a blurry veil, whilst the dead children look like they have life in them. Additionally, the costumes and the hairstyles don’t look plausibly like they’re from the early-1900s either, which gives viewers more reason to view this movie with contempt.

Over-all, The Woman In Black is (yet) another pitiful horror film. It has few redeeming features, save for a couple of scary moments to justify the movie’s place in the genre. The Woman In Black is not as risible as other recent, aforementioned horror films. But the movie’s inadequacies are symptomatic of a genre that’s in dire need of a revamp.

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11 responses to “Review – The Woman In Black (12a) [2012]

  1. I have not seen that poster before.. its a nice one.

  2. Informative article, just what I was looking for.

  3. This is the first good look at this movie I’ve seen from someone who doesn’t like it, which makes me question the conclusions I had come to regarding why. Since you asked my opinion of your points, I’ll try to go over each one and my reaction to it.

    The Woman in Black’s motives were, in my opinion, very well explained. While most killers in horror films have motives like “I was a child molester who died” (A Nightmare on Elm Street) or “I was an asshole injured in an accident” (The Burning) or even simply “I am evil” (Halloween 1, 2, 4), the backstory of the ghost is a main feature of last Act of the film, with Radcliffe’s character trying to resolve the cause of her distress, succeeding but not suppressing her psychotically obsessive “I will never forgive you for not trying to save him” reaction (which she then exposits to the audience) before the true resolution of the curse.

    As for the acting, I could take or leave your comments. I suppose it really depends on what you find believable and how much you expect. I’ve seen people whose opinions I respect refer to Radcliffe’s performance as “surprisingly strong”, while I fell in between that reaction and yours- I found his performance to be limited, but correct, which means that he sold the character to me, without completely breaking his mold. As for the Harry Potter comparison you make, I suppose I never really found him that effective a character in the films (I respected him much more in the novels), so I did not have that problem. What stood out most about his acting in the films as compared to this is comments other people have made (after my above comment, you’ll find it no surprise that the most memorable of these was his lack of an ability to show more than one facial expression).

    As for the other characters… I won’t deny that they were one-dimensional, and I’ll accept that that fact bothered you more than it did me. In a world where even beloved cult classics fall into cliches like “every sympathetic person of the opposite sex is the main character’s love interest” and “everybody in the world is an a****** even without reason”, I find this to be a bearable alternative.

    I found the special effects to be extremely good in this movie, but I’ve proven time and time again (example: http://wp.me/pOBwT-1SS) that my opinion on special effects is not to be trusted.

    As for your last paragraph, I would argue that films like this are the revamp that we need (along with Insidious, and perhaps Paranormal Activity, which I’ve been avoiding because I can’t stand the genre)- moving toward creepier, darker horror films rather than remakes of classics (even the one or two remakes I enjoy are under the dark cloud of the army of terrible remakes) or, worse, the Twilight trend. Moving away from those and toward films like this can’t be anything but a step up, regardless of what you think of the movie itself.

    • It is nice to know that my review made you have a re-think. It takes a bold man to admit such things. I see your points about the woman in black explaining herself; although, for me, she still lacks much depth. And your point about Radcliffe only having one expression is absolutely right.

      Also, if this film is part of the revamp of the horror genre then the genre is in a worse state than I imagined! Yes, you are correct this film is better than others I’ve seen, but that’s not saying much at all. Otherwise, I never said in my review whether I liked the film or not. Just because I gave it a low star rating doesn’t mean I liked the movie or not: I’ve given films I’ve liked poor ratings and, conversely, films I haven’t like I’ve given high ratings to before. See my guidelines for why I never state whether or not I like a film in my reviews.

      Thanks for the comment. It is much appreciated and I look forward to reading more of your blog-pieces in the future, and having more discussions with you.

  4. You did call it “pitiful”, which I took as an indication of opinion. I did read your guidelines after I made my comment, and considered commenting on them if that’s enabled- mainly because I think in certain films (such as period pieces with a story to tell) too much realism can be a distraction, rather than necessarily being beneficial.

    • No, no, I can accept that something is pitiful or terrible and still like it. (I won’t say which films these are though.) If it is a film on a specific period (take ‘The Help’ for example) then it has to reflective of that time and place. That still implies realism, just not present day realism. I don’t see how it could be a distraction? Surely, if it does not contain significant amounts of realism the movie will not be truly reflective of the period, no?

      • It won’t be truly reflective of the period, but it will be a more relatable atmosphere to the movie-goer. This will prevent them from focusing on things like Victorian Era hygiene, for instance, instead of the things that are supposed to frighten them.

  5. Hey dude! You tweeted me and asked how I felt about your review, so I thought I’d drop in and elaborate. =)

    I disagree with your overall assessment. I consider The Woman in Black to be a film following in the Paranormal Activity and Insidious mold, rather than Jennifer’s Body or The Wolfman. Much like PA and Insidious, The Woman in Black focus’ on atmosphere and rising suspense rather than action which is one of the Wolfman’s greatest sins. (Jennifer’s Body is a different animal altogether, so I’ll avoid discussing it for now. =P)

    I felt the film outlined the Woman’s motivations quite clearly – She takes the children of others because she had her own child taken away from her. She does -not- appear every time a child dies, as you suggest, but rather when she does appear she forces a child to kill themselves.

    You propose a question asking why she limits herself to the town, and not the whole world. Fair question, though I did feel the answer was implied in the film. She attacked the people of the town due to their proximity to the house, where she haunts. She cursed the house and so anytime someone enters the property, and sees her, the closest child dies.

    As far as the acting and production design goes – I thought that was top notch. Can’t really argue if you didn’t, because that comes down to personal taste. =P

    Anywho, later dude! Enjoyed the read. =)

    • Thanks and your comment is greatly appreciated. All of your points are fair and well argued, but it still doesn’t do it for me. Even with what you say about the woman in black, herself, there are inconsistencies. Is she really out to gain revenge for her child being taken away from her or is she just a spiteful ghost (who was always that way when she was alive)? If it is the former then the ending makes no sense; and if it is the latter then why was this not explained during the film? They had the time to do it. Also I found that the film kept me in virtually no suspense.

      Still, thanks again for the comment and I look forward to discussing many more films with you Horror Guru.

  6. love the story and the movie- good writing

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