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