It's 11 days into the shortest month of the year and The Woman in Black is the first 2012 film I have actually seen, of course Britain often gets films after the US, but from the 2012 films released so far, very few have been of particular interest to me, and some I have not had the time to see. Anyway, many will know of the stage play of The Woman in Black, which is the second longest running play in the history of West End, which has been terrifying people for the past 23 years, both the book and the play are held in high regard, can the film do both the novel and the play justice?
The film is based on the 1983 novel by Susan Hill, also entitled The Woman in Black, which concerns Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) who is summoned to Crythin Gifford to organise the paperwork left behind by the reclusive widow Alice Drablow. Recently widowed himself Arthur has to care for his four year old son, but he still is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his wife. He does not wish to leave the child, but he must, otherwise he will lose his job. Upon arriving to Crythin Gifford, Arthur learns that the villagers are mainly an uncooperative bunch, with the exception of Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds) who becomes of some use to Arthur.
Uncooperative locals aside, Arthur has a job that needs doing at the ‘old place cut off from the outside world’ this old place is the house that Alice Drablow previously owned, however Arthur soon discovers that the house is not an ordinary house but one with very sinister intentions as strange paranormal happenings become more intense and dangerously active.
Obviously the type of films that The Woman in Black is most closely related to are ghost stories similar to that of Robert Wise’s 1963 horror masterpiece The Haunting (based on a novel written by Shirley Jackson entitled The Haunting of Hill House). The Haunting is the definitive example of a ghost story; one would be hard pressed to find a ghost story better than the 1963 original. The Haunting worked so well because the horror was kept hidden, the horror was suggested and it allowed our minds to imagine it for ourselves, and, to an extent, The Woman in Black does exactly this. The Woman in Black has been given a 12 Rating (PG – 13 in America), what this means is the film has received a few cuts, because the BBFC originally gave The Woman in Black a 15 certificate, but decreased the rating after protests from the distributor but had to make those cuts for the film to fit within the BBFC's guidelines.
However the 12A rating also means that the director (James Watkins) can be more inventive with tension, suggestion and atmosphere rather than relying on gore to create the scares, and Watkins has created a film with enough of a chill factor to make one’s spine tingle. The first two acts contain more suggestion rather than actual horror, although the first two acts are punctuated with annoying, clichéd jump scares, and shock moments, that do work reasonably well, but because of the tense, uneasy atmosphere in the first two acts it overcomes the issues of those irritating false scares. The third act descends more into outright horror, and as a result some of the tension is lost, but there are undoubtedly some very good shocks.
For all the good suspense and tension sustained throughout the first two acts, the movie does occasionally use too many false scares that have already been heavily employed in the horror genre. If one is accustomed to the horror genre these false scares are likely to invite eye rolling or exasperated sighs, furthermore some of the scares are very predictable. However the film makes up for the clichéd false scares with the impressive chill factor it does rather well to sustain. The story is set in the Victorian era (the set design looks great, and the visuals are outstanding), an era in which the floorboards of houses creek ominously all about the house, these clichés are regular visitors to ghost stories, but they are quite unnerving to hear, and if utilised correctly work a treat.
In his third role outside the Harry Potter franchise (his first role after the franchise has ended) Daniel Radcliffe churns out a decent performance, but this is not a role that demands much of the actor other than walking round a house looking terrified, however Radcliffe does this rather well (although Radcliffe’s character does display some signs of depression, which isn’t expanded upon a great deal). One can also claim that he his slightly too young to have a four year old child, but this is minor flaw not worth fussing over. Yet Daniel Radcliffe character is a bit of dingbat, Jane Goldman (Kickass, X-Men) feels the need to explain almost every detail of the plot, even though aspects of the plot are blatantly obvious to anyone even remotely in tune. As the film progresses it distances itself from the source material (the ending has been heavily changed from the book), whether or not these changes are for the better remains to be seen, but the general consensus is that they are not.
The Woman in Black is a Hammer Horror production, thus it intends to return to the foggy days of the 1950s in which Hammer Horror was at its peak. Hammer Horror relies on a foreboding atmosphere and creating a sense of dread, and the Woman in Black does this quite well, although it is punctuated by the unimaginative false scares. The recent Hammer Horror film Wake Wood is far more successful in creating an unnerving atmosphere, but The Woman in Black is still good fun. The Woman in Black is not as good as the likes of The Others, The Orphanage and The Haunting, but better than some of the rubbish already out there. Is it scary? No, not really, but it’s entertaining.