Monday, February 6, 2012

A Ghost Story Done Right: Andrew's Review of "The Woman in Black" (2012)

Directed By: James Watkins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Synopsis: In early twentieth-century England, young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is sent to a remote village on the eastern seaboard to handle the estate of the recently deceased Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow who lived alone in the desolate and secluded Eel Marsh House. Kipps ignore the warnings of the townsfolk and encounters a ghost who, when seen, brings about the death of a child in the town.
Sarah: Saturday morning the two of us are sitting in the apartment waiting for my Dad to come visit and since it was early, I sent Andrew to go see “The Woman in Black” starring Daniel Radcliffe. If you have read the past couple of reviews, you know that I am not a big fan of scary movies.
So, Andrew, what did you think of Harry Potter's new movie?
Andrew:  I see…we're going to start this off from the Harry Potter angle right off the bat, huh? In that case, to answer your most direct question, I really liked "The Woman in Black." It's exactly how a ghost story should be done. In the vein of the recent "Paranormal Activity" films, "The Woman in Black" gets its scares done by building up the dread and rarely using cheap "boo scares" on the audience. I commend director James Watkins for this approach because that’s rarely done nowadays.
S: So did you think that it was a legit scary movie that deserves all of the press that it has been receiving?
A: It's definitely legitimate. There were a number of times during the film that I had goosebumps covering my arms and chills running down my back for entire scenes. Like I mentioned before, the reason the film works is because of the dread that Watkins instills in you.
It's an incredibly atmospheric movie, shot with a very dark, dreary blue palette. The settings are very gothic; there's great usage of fog and the dark, abandoned house that most of the film is set in. For long stretches of time the movie is literally just Daniel Radcliffe sitting or walking around the house, either with no music or very subtle music, and very creepy sounds emanating from various parts of the house. It's very effective.
S: Well then, that leads to my next question: how did he do? Daniel Radcliffe has had quite the year, going from the end of one of the biggest movie series ever to singing on Broadway for a year before making his way back onto the silver screen. In this film he plays an older man (well maybe in his 30s) who is a father and a widower. How do you think he fit in this role? He’s played a student for so many years, so it makes the viewer wonder if it was a stretch for him as an actor.
A: Dan actually does a really good job in this film. The first scene he's in he's shaving his face and I thought, "Wow, he looks older." So from the beginning he looked the part and he actually fits in extremely well with the Edwardian era the movie is set in. 
I thought he played a father pretty well, too, and part of that might stem from the fact that the boy who plays his son is his real-life godson. I thought that was a great decision by all involved, as you can really see the affection between the two. (Also, I would guess his character is actually in his early to mid-20s still.)
That said, the one thing that did bug me about Dan's performance - through no fault of his own - was his voice. He still sounds young. And possibly he always will, but it threw me for a second when he first spoke. Overall though he does a good job, and it might help that he doesn't have to speak all too much.
S: So you said that there weren't too many cheap “boo scares" in this film. What made it so creepy then? What was it about the woman in black that made her such a good ghost?
A: The creepiest thing about the movie is the setting. They absolutely nailed it. The house is so old, dilapidated and has tons of shadows that it's the perfect setting for a ghost story. Watkins uses the shadows and that natural fear of what you can't see so well that the fear you feel is genuine. At least it was for me. I'm the kind of person that let's my imagination run away with things, and it helped intensify the scary factor of "The Woman in Black."
In regards to the things you can see, the ghost looks great and makes a very good villain. Again, Watkins uses his visuals so well that you see the ghost off in the distance, or standing in the forefront of the frame, or in a window and it just made me shudder. And then there are the kids! The plot of the film is that the woman in black is a malevolent ghost looking for revenge after her child is taken from her, so whenever someone sees her ghost, a child in the town dies soon thereafter. The ghosts of the children show up towards the end of the film and they might be freakier that the woman in black.
S: Wow, it sounds like the movie was a great way to scare the living daylights out of anyone! You have seen a lot of scary movies in your life. How does this one rank on the list of scary films?
A: You could say that I've seen a few horror movies in my day, yes. Off the top of my head, the best ghost/haunted house movies I've seen are Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist," the "Paranormal Activity" films, and last year's "Insidious" by James Wan. Those are the cream of the crop to me of ghost/haunted house movies, and my immediate reaction to "The Woman in Black" is that it's just underneath those films. We will own this movie someday.

(Out of Five Clapboards)

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