‘The Woman in Black’ Review

The old house filled by shadow. The creepy cobwebbed toys. The closed off road that allows no passage. These are all staples of a good gothic horror tale, and in that regard ‘The Woman in Black’ succeeds in spades. It is a film that knows exactly how to set the mood for a ghost story and pull suspense from each creak in the floorboards. Unfortunately, this alone does not make a good film or a good horror film.

‘The Woman in Black’ based on a stage play, based on a movie, based on a novel, tells the story of Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliff). Arthur has lost his wife but gained a young son. He is under financial duress and is assigned to work the estate of Alice Drablow at the inviting Eel Marsh House. Arthur heads to a small hamlet where the townsfolk are suspicious and agitated to know that he will be working at the old manor.

Despite attempts to send him back to London, Arthur makes his way to the house in the marsh and that is where the movie starts off proper. Alone in this cold dark manor, Arthur is first besieged by chilling noises and sights of people appearing and then disappearing in and outside the house (along with the eponymous Woman in Black). Soon, tragedy strikes as some children of the town die mysteriously and an old curse and mystery starts to unfold. And when it unfolds it is where the movie loses all of the good will it built up beforehand.

The movie works best when it is in and around the grounds of Eel Marsh Manor. The movie plays with light and sound extremely well. The scenes where Arthur explores noises are wonderful. The music is almost non-existent and you hear every footfall as he wanders into the blackness. These scenes are great and really bring a lot of tension into the movie. For the first half, I was really with this film. The setting just pulls you in and feels familiar like ‘The Haunting’ or ‘The Turn of the Screw’. Sure it relies too heavily on jump scares, but that can be fun in a haunted house film.  Radcliffe does a good job as Kipps which is a hard role as it’s mostly silent; he conveys the sense of an overwhelmed and scared man without going too over the top. Fans of this sub-genre of horror will appreciate the ‘Hammer’ stamp on this film, and the look of this film is almost perfect.

 

Almost. While this makes for a fun little Friday Night flick, it also can’t stick the landing. Above I said that jump scenes aren’t necessarily a bad thing, you also can’t rely on that as your only means of terror. People will jump at something that flashes in front of their face as that is just a reflex. Once you know the secret behind ‘The Woman in Black’ any sense of urgency or dread is completely vanished from the film and you are left with a car running on fumes as it eases onto the side of the road. This movie needed to have resolution or a story to run with, but the one it has is so familiar that it is hard to be invested in it.  One of my biggest complaints is that in a film that relies so much on minimalistic scares (like a rocking chair going on its own, or the shiver-inducing shot of a child crawling up from the mud underneath a lightning struck sky), when we get to the actual Woman in Black, she is mostly an overdone CGI effect (which takes all weight from her, even though she is a ghost).

Mostly the film lacks a third act and when we should be in the grips of the climax, we are just biding our time until it ends (and what a lame ending this film has). What is really unfortunate is at the start of the film, it really had the makings of a classic haunted house film that could stand above much of the recent entries in the horror genre. Instead what we get leaves us wishing for something more. This is a fun movie for the most part but it doesn’t elevate itself into a better level and honestly becomes forgettable soon after the credits role.

 

The Good:

Creepy atmosphere, some decent jump scares, gothic setting, a chance for Harry Potter jokes

 

The Bad:

Lack of a good third act, lousy CG, you’ve seen this done before (and better), lame final shot

 

Worth a Rental?

If you like this style of horror, you will find something to enjoy in ‘The Woman in Black’. This would make for a fun date-night movie if you want to hold your significant other closely. However if you are looking for something deeper in your ghost stories, then this is not that movie.

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28 thoughts on “‘The Woman in Black’ Review

  1. I really wanted to catch this at the theatre. Then I was waiting for it to come to the dollar theatre and I still haven’t seen it listed. I love a ghost story and too many horror films are slasher films. So I will still try to see this one way or another.

    • It’s worth a watch just for the setting and mood and it does have some good tension and scares, but just a really disappointing ending

    • there’s a scene where he’s going to the hamlet via train and I couldn’t help but yell out ‘Off to Hogwarts, are you Harry?’

  2. Nice review, Kloipy. I didn’t go and see this one. I read the book a while back and it didn’t really grab me, I’m not sure why. I like the way you’ve highlighted the pros and the cons at the end. Nicely done. 🙂

    • Thank you Katy! I think i was a bit too hard on this movie, it really isn’t bad, I was just really disappointed in how it ended

  3. I wanted to see this in the theater because I was excited about a good old ghost story where people would not be chopped to bits. Now it sounds like I won’t feel too cheated if I only have to pay a buck at the rental kiosk. Thanks for the review!

    • Ok here it goes:
      For a good read go for 2 Stephen King pieces: The Reach and Bag of Bones

      For film here’s a list:
      The Haunting (1963, not the remake)
      The Fog
      Poltergeist
      Lake Mungo (highly reccomend this one)
      The Shining (of course!)
      The Changeling
      The Others
      The Turn of the Screw

      that’s just a start

  4. Reviewed this when it was out in the UK.

    http://moonwolves.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/made-in-britain-the-woman-in-black/

    See the play.

    Basically, the problem is this:

    Mostly the film lacks a third act and when we should be in the grips of the climax, we are just biding our time until it ends (and what a lame ending this film has).

    The play is only 2 acts, and the insertions into the film of extraneous stuff to the thrust of the novel and the play take a lot of the power out. I’d argue that the third act is contrived, clichéd and misguided.

    Furthermore, all the scenes of him wandering around the town break the tension. It should play on the claustrophobia and isolation of the location, but stuff like the dinner party robs the film of the focus.

    Finally, it botches the ending to the play. Badly.

    Overall, meh. Worth a rental, but don’t expect greatness.

    • I would actually love to see this done on stage to see how they pull it off. I’m totally with you. Any time he leaves the house, i guess i would equate it to an exhale. It just slows it down. They should have done the majority of the film in the house and not had him go back into town at least until the end

      • The play only has two actors. It asks you to use your imagination for a lot of it- with the actors describing their location and whatnot. The set principally consists of a wicker basket forestage, a curtain you can see through when it is lit behind with a staircase behind the curtain leading up to a locked door.

        It works on sound effects- which are stupendous, and is genuinely one of the more frightening things that I’ve seen. Destroys both screen versions and the original novel.

        Plays (not musicals) don’t last in the West End for over 20 years by accident.

      • that sounds awesome Jarv. If they ever do a production here (or if I make it to Europe next year) I’ll have to look for it

      • You’ll have to take my word for it, but all the problems in the film stem form having to have 3 acts and be 90 minutes. The play is an hour ish, and 2 acts- almost everything that doesn’t work is what they added.

        This is no surprise, because the talentless dog that jammed it in is the same woman indirectly responsible for Kick Ass and other such crap (she’s cinema/ critical royalty in the UK). Almost everything here that fails is down to her.

    • PS- this is a lovely review, and one that (without knowledge of the other versions) picked out what was wrong.

      At the risk of repetition- if the play ever makes it your way, or you and Mrs. Kloipy find yourselves in London, then see a matinee of it (It’s about £20 per ticket here in the afternoon).

      2 Actors, a wicker basket, a ghost (to be fair, an actress, but they never, ever name the girl that’s playing the part), and a tape recorder and it’s devastating.

      • I read your review of it Jarv and the play sounds so much better. And if someone who had a hand in Kick ass wrote this i can now understand the shitty 3rd act as that movie ended bad too.
        We are hoping to make it over there next summer hopefully. I’ll let you know closer if it comes to pass, we’ll have to all go out for drinks

  5. I blogged about this before without the spoilers, and yeah I didn’t like the ending. Actually, they edited it from the book. But i could honestly say that I was scared for a night or two then. haha.

  6. Good review.

    I’ll probably give this a rental – but I’d rather see the play coz that sounds superb.

    I rate ‘Stir Of Echoes’ as a decent ghost story as well…

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