So after a long time the ghost are back on our screens to scare the living daylights out of us! I say this as, although there have been some fair share of horror flicks in recent times; none have actually come close to scaring me.
Susan Hill’s sepulchral, haar-shrouded tale of strange goings-on at Eel Marsh House has been adapted for the screen once before, and very capably too as i hear. It is often held up as one of the most potent, paralyzing spooky screen adaptations of a ghost story ever made. But thanks to its vividly-styled, almost hyper-Edwardian setting and some canny plot lines by screenwriter Jane Goldman, this is a new reading of an old story, trembling with freshly terrifying resonances.
Radcliffe gives a clear-eyed, plausibly grown-up performance as Arthur Kipps, a lawyer summoned to a remote mansion to settle its recently-deceased owner’s estate. There, he sees a whole lotta dead people, but not the helpful kind that haunt Hogwarts. A local landowner (Ciarán Hinds) lets slip a few details about a mysterious, cloaked woman who’s occasionally glimpsed at the window, although Kipps learns a great deal more about her first-hand when, in order to finish his paperwork on time, he decides to spend the night at Eel Marsh House himself. It is said that whenever someone sees the cloaked woman, almost certainly a death occurs in a nearby village. The death of children under suspicious circumstances.
Black follows the beats of a traditional ghost story: the remote Victorian setting, the mystery surrounding the undead, and a protagonist that lacks the common sense to leave a haunted house. The script by Jane Goldman does make it clear that Arthur needs the money, but after he’s seen a third spirit, it’s time to find employment elsewhere. I was constantly on my tenterhooks, but was still thinking “Why the hell are you goin there!!”, ” just stop..please just stop!! Dont go into that room!!”, “Dont you have a son to go back to!!!Why you getting yourself killed!!”
Once the Woman in Black shows up, the fear factor goes way up. At first, she’s seen obscured. Then her black shadowed image fills the frame—impossible to ignore. It totally works.
Any ghost story needs its “rules” – i.e., the establishment of certain information and backstory – such as where the ghost came from, how it behaves, what its powers are, etc. Though this task is handled pretty heavy-handedly in the film (exposition dumps and voice-over narration), we learn from the very first frame that this particular dark spirit targets children, forcing them to commit brutal acts of self-extermination. It’s a plot-point that gives way to some truly horrific child death scenes in the film – but at the same time, it leaves very little at stake for our main character, Arthur, who is an adult.
This is why The Woman in Black is both highly effective and highly ineffective in its attempt to terrify. The plot is flimsy as they come (basically, Arthur has to sit around an old mansion by himself for hours on end, looking through a dead woman’s creepy artifacts), but it still provides context for some good extended scare sequences. Indeed, Watkins makes smart use of that time, and on the whole, a lot of what Arthur encounters in the mansion is bone-chilling and/or squirm-inducing. The images of death, supernatural occurrences and violence stick in mind even after the end credits roll.
However, after a few rounds of jump scares and frightening imagery are done, the anticipation and dread begin to dissipate as it becomes clear that there is no danger to Arthur himself (remember those “rules?”), and that indeed, he is only a peripheral figure in the eyes of the spirit, whose real prey is children (themselves peripheral characters in the film). We never get that catharsis of seeing an important character facing death, or the feeling that our protagonist himself could die – so the prospect of being scared quickly settles into the mild satisfaction of being creeped out, and an attempt at a climactic third act twist does nothing to redeem that downward slope.
The film’s greatest asset is no doubt the set piece of Eel Marsh House. The land is bleak and foggy and foreboding, and the combination of impeccable set design by Niamh Coulter, smart cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones and creative direction by Watkins makes the mansion a true house of horrors. Even in daylight, the various props decorating house make it look treacherous and freakish, and Watkins and Jones play with angles, space, and lighting to give off the distinct effect that even minor objects are menacing (see: the toy collection), and that every shadow on the peripheral or down a length of hallway hides something sinister. Best haunted house I’ve seen paranormal activity.
Ultimately, The Woman in Black amounts to the sort of creepy ghost story that one might hear from your grandparents or from the village folklore. It will keep you squirming in your seat, ready to duck your face into your hands or shirt – but even though this movie maintains a steady simmer; it never boils over into unbridled terror. Thank God for that. But i feel it could have been much much better if story was more tightly wound. All in all, if you like being scared at the movies then you would get a fair share of creeps from this one!
Direction : 3.5
Acting : 3
Cinematography : 4
Story : 3
Music /Sound design : 4
Total : 3.5