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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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Review – Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part I (12a) [2010]

Star Rating: 3/5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final part of the Harry Potter series (albeit split into two films), was going to have to be a climactic masterpiece if it was to reach the unrealistic expectations of fans and critics alike. That it looked darker and more ominous than the previous six films merely added to the hype.

Film seven kicks off where the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, left off. The time has come for Hogwarts’ prodigal apprentice, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter I-VII(ii), The Woman In Black), to leave the comforts of his school. Now, he must find and vanquish the Hawcruxes, since this is the only way he will have a chance of defeating his eternal nemesis: the ever-more-powerful Dark Lord, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List, The Reader, Harry Potter IV, V & VII(ii)). Joining Harry will be the young spell-mistress of her generation, Hermione Grainger (Emma Watson – Harry Potter I-VII(ii), My Week With Marilyn); and their goofy friend and below-average wizard, Ron Weasely (Rupert Grint – Harry Potter I-VII(ii)).

Against them stands an awesome array of Voldemort’s allies, including Belatrix (Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club, Harry Potter V-VII(ii), The King’s Speech), the Death Eaters, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman – Die Hard, Harry Potter I-VII(ii), Alice in Wonderland), Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton – The Borrowers, Harry Potter I-VII(ii), Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and his father, Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs – The Patriot, Green Zone, Harry Potter II, IV, V, VII(ii)); not to mention countless others who are willing to assist the Dark Lord with his evil plans. Voldemort aside, these are the same villains who killed Albus Dumbledore, Harry’s master, in the previous film. Now, it is up to the precocious, but unready Harry to somehow deal with them as they relentlessly hound him.

Harry, Ron and Herminone working out where to next in their search for the Hawcruxes

How Harry and his friends were going to take on the villains was always going to be the key to the plot. But the plot is slow. At times, it is tedious to the point of disinteresting. (Unless, of course, you are a die-hard fan of which I am not.) Just like in the Half-Blood Prince, the director, David Yates (Harry Potter IIIVII(ii)), focuses more on the relationship between Harry, Hermione and Ron rather than the storyline. Again, the film is dominated by the ever-worsening sexual tension/frustration that the three main characters suffer. (One almost wants them to do it and get it over with just so the story can move on.)

But this is not the only thing that Harry, Hermione and Ron have to endure. They look lost away from their safe bubble-world of Hogwarts. Tiredness and helplessness is never far from their faces. But aside from this, the quality of the acting from the three main actors is, in general, far from great. Radcliffe and Grint remain more or less the same poor, two-dimensional characters they’ve always been. Emma Watson, at least, gives a slightly more mature performance than in previous films. She also has more of a leading role this time around; possibly even eclipsing Radcliffe. But apart from looking pretty, the role of Hermione still does not come overtly naturally to Watson. She tries too hard and takes herself too seriously.

Voldemort, the Dark Lord, unleashes some of his frightening dark powers. It is a pity that we see so little of him throughout the film.

In contrast, the villains do not take themselves seriously. For most other films, this would be a source of ridicule for the actors. However, Fiennes, Carter and Rickman skilfully pull off their roles. The great shame is how little they appear on-screen. This is a tragedy, since the Deathly Hallows should be about the villains as much as Harry. One even sees more of the Ministry of Magic, whose interior looks like a larger and more advance form of the Houses of Parliament (with a superficial Orwellian/1984 feel); and Lucius Malfoy’s mansion, which appears to be a real-life version of the enchanted castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, than the villains.

The choreography of these and other places, plus the special effects throughout the film are well done. Indeed, they are so good one could mistake the computer generated images (CGI) for being real. This is no mean feat for a fantasy film. Many films, and not just from this genre, fall at this hurdle.

The scenery throughout the movie is equally as impressive and well chosen; whether it is of a forest, a hill-top or an open plain. The landscape and weather always seem to fit in effortlessly with the mood of the scene. Yet, unlike for example in the Lord of the Rings, the landscapes and the choreography are not equalised in the Deathly Hallows by the quality of the acting or the grip of the plot. By the end, one only has a rough idea as to how the ‘Deathly Hallows’ is even relevant to the story.

However, despite these flaws, does Part I leave us wanting to see Part II? Without a doubt: yes. After-all, we have followed Harry for so long how could we possibly miss out on witnessing his duel of destiny with Voldemort?

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