The Woman in Black Directed by: James Watkins Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: February 3, 2012
PLOT: A young lawyer (Radcliffe) is sent to a quiet English town where he learns about a ghost that haunts the villagers' children.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Fans of the Hammer horror legacy will likely appreciate this one more than teenagers in search of some jump scares. Lovers of Daniel Radcliffe will be scratching their heads as to why he chose this movie as his first movie post-Harry Potter.
EXPECTATIONS: The beginning of the movie year is a rough time for true horror movies, as evidenced by The Devil Inside and countless others shams before it. Would this movie, led by Harry Potter himself, be doomed to that pile?
Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps: The former Harry Potter lead (now Broadway star) is not in Arthur's shoes to dazzle moviegoers with a role that showcases his entire range. Instead, he's here to simply step out of the Potter shadow, playing a composed, yet scared character that any decent actor could. Within these basic requirements, Radcliffe proves to be a watchable surrogate of the movie's haunted house experience. Score: 5
Ciaran Hinds as Daily: He's seen brighter days than Black, but this movie nonetheless embraces the side actor's stone mug. Hinds' most important duty in this movie is to chauffeur Radcliffe around the movie, which he does well. Throughout the entire movie, there's never one scene in which Arthur complains about Daily's driving. Score: 5
Janet McTeer as Mrs. Daily: The now twice-nominated Oscar nominee has only a couple of scenes in this movie, and they're of her playing "crazy lady." In one instance, with the help of two dogs, she sneaks in some comic relief. McTeer doesn't make this disturbed individual a particularly strong piece of the Woman in Black puzzle, but does give a strange, if not slightly memorable presence. Score: 5
TALKING: At least twice during the horror of Woman in Black, someone is heard screaming, "My baby!" This could be a coincidence just as much it could be claimed intentional. Either way, that's the extent of the dialogue you'll get from this movie, which already uses a whole story as filler between scenes of attempted frights. Score: 4
SIGHTS: The Woman in Black succeeds with its only serious requirement of providing strong and spooky aesthetics. The dark gray clouds and dying haunted house give the movie's overall atmosphere a tangible uneasiness. In true dedication to art direction, Black doesn't slack on giving the visuals a believable period look. Score: 7
SOUNDS: The old-fashioned score toys with moviegoers by nudging them towards possible jump moments. When something does "jump" out at audiences, the mix is very loud, proving that it's not so much the image that we're afraid of, but the surprise of a loud noise. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: The first evening that Arthur spends in the house showcases the movie's most consistent tension, and plants viewers in an uncomfortable, if not repetitive situation.
ENDING: Watch your damn kids.
QUESTIONS: What drove screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass) to write this movie? How much of an influence did previous Hammer Film productions have on The Woman in Black? When will people learn that movies can be terrifying visually, without booming cues?
REWATCHABILITY: Though some scares may still surprise on a second viewing, the story isn't strong enough to carry this one into a second round.
Made as a throwback to rustier horror tastes, The Woman in Black thinks it's a special experience. It doesn't feature a group of meddling teenagers scouring a haunted house or falling upon ghouls while trying to get laid, and it even forces multiplex viewers to follow a gentleman with the last name "Kipps" as he does boring lawyer work.
Yet, The Woman in Black doesn't acknowledge that it's a ghost in our time - that we can see right through most of the shenanigans it tries to pull off like it's still 1955. Yes, creaky doors and floors can still create uneasiness, (especially in the age of WD-40) but is fully relying on them in hopes of jump scares not a worn out concept, especially for a pseudo-tribute like this? The Woman in Black is excited by the usage of music boxes and creepy dolls, but simply pretends such elements have not become cliche. Because it's in tribute of the older times, man! Don't you know a B-movie when you see one?
There's one scene in which the two factors of modern expectations and old-fashioned B-movie desires nicely marry, and it's the first night sequence in the haunted house that provides the centerpiece for this simple movie (mentioned above). The jump scares have genuine surprise to them, and the movie literally takes a break to have Radcliffe bungle around the house to see just how much he can take before running out of it.
That scene, like the rest of this movie, is an engineered haunted house. It has some uneasy corners, and some good lighting, but you're not trapped in it. After you've eventually shuffled out of it, you might even feel silly for being a little afraid.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10