13 March 2012

Movie Review: The Woman in Black


The Woman in Black
2012, 95mins, 12
Director: James Watkins
Writer: Jane Goldman
Cast includes: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Roger Allam, Jessica Raine, Janet McTeer
UK Release Date: 10th February 2012

“The Woman in Black” is a shakily assembled slice of retro-horror, designed to transport viewers to a cinematic era wherein foggy marshlands and dodgy locals were the sharpest tools in any filmmakers arsenal. With director James Watkins (2008’s deeply disturbing “Eden Lake”) at the fore, there was some hope “The Woman in Black” might transcend its basic ghost story origins, but unfortunately he can’t overcome the turgid screenplay supplied by the usually dependable Jane Goldman. “The Woman in Black” is a tedious endeavour that rarely quickens the pulse, let down further thanks to a vacant central performance courtesy of former boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe.

A widowed and financially hamstrung lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe, barely registering) is forced to oversee the estate of a recently deceased woman in a remote nook of the country, travelling to a village full of misery and forceful superstition. The townspeople want Arthur gone quickly, but he decides to inspect the isolated property anyway, encountering the spirit of the Woman in Black as a result. At first reluctant to believe in the spectral presence, Arthur is soon made to confront the horrific reality as the woman begins to claim the lives of neighbouring children. Forgoing his initial quest to finalize the estate, Arthur instead utilizes the aid of wealthy sceptic Daily (Ciaran Hinds) to help appease the poltergeist once and for all.

The film looks tremendous, Watkins painting the town in atmospheric lashings of grey, whilst juggling the admittedly hackneyed foggy marshlands with a high level of visual skill. Certainly on the surface “The Woman in Black” encourages a respectable aura of dread, the problem is that the filmmakers do nothing interesting with it. Every character is underwritten, whilst the movie’s idea of massive frights are predictable boo moments and creaking floorboards. In his last feature (the aforementioned “Eden Lake”) Watkins showed a genuine aptitude for crafting tension, here such ability is utterly absent. Every bang is heavily forecast and the villain really isn’t that terrifying. Sure her actions are at times harrowing, but the representation provided onscreen is bland and the screenplay never attempts to properly imbue her with any personality. She’s a plot device more than any sort of tangible threat.

Radcliffe stutters through the picture blankly, although given the mediocre screenplay it’s hard to believe any actor could have made the part work. Goldman’s script provides Arthur with a tragic past and a motive for besting his ghostly foe (his young son is set to visit in a matter of days) but it’s done to such a superficial degree that caring becomes impossible. Some of the set-pieces involving children in peril are unnerving, but they aren’t particularly frequent, leaving the rest of the picture to exist purely as an overstretched slog. The beats that Watkins delivers are much too generic and repetitive to warrant even a 95 minute runtime, meaning that the endeavour regularly drags and frustrates. There’s a difference between subtle slow-burn and plain boring, “The Woman in Black” teetering much closer to the latter.

The finale at least packs a bit of bite, but it’s not enough to resuscitate this otherwise pedestrian genre offering. As of the moment “The Woman in Black” has amassed over $90 million worldwide, impressive given that it was assembled on a moderately tight budget and features no proven box-office draws (Radcliffe may have a major franchise under his belt, but he’s not the reason punters made it so big). However it’s bemusing that people should respond so notably to something so indistinctive and unmemorable, “The Woman in Black” a disappointment from start to finish.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012


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