Feb 5, 2012

The Woman In Black

A lovely, surprisingly effective and intelligent ghost movie starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter to you), Ciaran Hinds and the formidable Janet McTeer. This is a scary movie about unendurable grief. Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young widower lawyer who is sent by his firm somewhere to the marshy north of England to settle some defunct lady's estate. When he gets there, the villagers won't help him and horrible things start happening to children. Radcliffe is affecting in an almost silent performance as the young man.
Most scary movies have flimsy premises and are lazily written, rarely bothering with character. This film is an exception, with a solid screenplay, adapted from a novel, that sets and pays everything off beautifully. Director James Watkins relies a lot on slamming doors and pounding sound effects, but he does make you jump many times. He also sustains tension and suspense chillingly and, rare for the genre, has tremendous empathy for his characters. The Victorian atmosphere feels authentic, misty and cold, with scary looking windup toys, sinister dolls, and the terrible sight of innocent children destroying themselves. It's such a pleasure to watch a horror movie that looks beautiful, and not shot in cheap, apoplectic video, for a change.  Watkins is stylish, restrained and wonderful with shocking apparitions. He also has a bit of a sense of humor.
The plot has a couple of excellent unexpected twists, and one of the reasons it works is because we are invested in the character, who for once, is not an idiot, but a susceptible young man in mourning, with a young child himself and therefore open to the apparitions of ghosts. I wish there was more of an intimation that perhaps all of these ghastly scares are happening only in his mind (this movie is very reminiscent both of The Innocents and The Others), and that he had more of an inner conflict, because once he becomes unafraid of the ghosts, we become a little less afraid ourselves. The story could go further and raise the stakes much higher, but it opts for more emotional grounding than just scares. Still, this is a mature, poignant film that truly sympathizes with unendurable grief, grief so monstrous that it wishes the worst kind of harm in those fortunate enough not to harbor it. More importantly, The Woman In Black delivers plenty of scares, which is all that matters in this kind of films, most of them extremely well earned (the audience kept tittering and laughing from sheer nerves), yet with a very touching aura of unfathomable sadness. 

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