Thursday 23 February 2012

The Woman In Black

I had been dying to see this film as I love horror and most especially a great ghost story. I grew up fearing Bloody Mary in my bathroom mirror and am still trying to work up the nerve to enter Bachelor Grove Cemetery. Anyway, I got to see this on Monday and surprise! I was all alone in the darkened theater. Booyah! Cue the scary music.

I settled in with my hot pretzel and prepared to be scared and creeped out. I was not disappointed. We open with three innocent little girls having a tea party, smiling and laughing. All of a sudden they stop, their faces go blank, as they stare at someone or something that has come into their room. Then they get to their feet in a synchronous movement, walk to the large three-paned windows and jump to their deaths.

Enter Arthur Kipps, a grieving young solicitor, struggling to hold onto his career and his sanity. He has visions of his dead wife beckoning him. Daniel Radcliffe has definitely shed Harry Potter. He broke my heart with those lost, shattered eyes. Poor Arthur is hanging on by a thread, his son.

After a final warning about his job, Arthur sets off to the village of Crythin Gifford to see to the estate of Alice Drablow. Once he arrives, he finds the villagers strangely rude and eager to see him turn around and hightail it back to London. The innkeepers refuse him a room, until the wife feels guilty enough because of the downpour to rent him the attic room. The same room from where the little girls committed suicide.

The following day, Arthur tries to talk with the local solicitor, Mr. Jerome. Jerome brushes him off, hands him a packet of Alice's papers, then hustles Arthur out. He even has a carriage waiting to take the young widower to the train. Miffed, Arthur pays the carriage driver, who looks like he could be Dracula's Renfield, to take him to Drablow's Eel Marsh House. This mausoleum of a place sits on an island in the marshes and becomes cut off during high tide. The joint is creepy as hell. We're talking the type of house that requires its own list of horror film survival rules. In other words, do not enter unless you've got Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne as your back up.

Dracula's driver dumps Arthur at the gate and gets out of there so fast his wagon wheels squeeled. Our intrepid hero enters the house and sets about doing his job. All sorts of noises and mysterious footsteps lead him to explore upstairs. Second rule of haunted house survival: Do Not Go Upstairs. I mean the First is obviously Do Not Enter, but if you're gonna go anyway... I digress.

He goes and of course he sees the woman. Just before he freaks, though, Renfield returns and takes him back to the village. He reports the sighting of the woman to the local constable. While there, two young boys appear with their sickly sister. She has inexplicably taken a few gulps of lye and dies in Arthur's arms. Now the villagers are up in arms. They know when the Woman is sighted, the children will start to die.

Arthur is rattled by this point, but he knows that he has to finish the job or he'll never be able to take care of his son. Instead of leaving, like any sensible person, he takes refuge with his new friend from the train ride up, Sam Daily, played by the incomparable Ciaran Hinds. Sam knows the villagers are a superstitious lot and though he tries not to buy into their panic, it's difficult. Turns out Sam and his wife lost their son when the Woman made an appearance. Here's where they reveal that they are just as weird as the villagers because Mrs. Daily claims to communicate with her dead son through possessive trances. Just the happy couple I want to spend the night with.

By now Arthur is beside himself, determined to learn the secret of Eel Marsh and find out what the eff is going on. He heads back to spend the night and goes through every last scrap, discovering that Alice had a sister Jennet, whose son Nathaniel was taken from her because she was declared insane. Alice raised the boy as her own until he died in an accident, his body lost in the marsh. After his discovery, Arthur has some wicked encounters with the Woman. He even sees Nathaniel's ghost rise out of the marsh as well as the spirits of the other dead children. There is nothing quite like ghostly kids to send the shivers down the spine, especially when they're done right.

Arthur figures out what needs to be done to make the Woman stop her murderous rampage, and enlists the aid of Sam, who himself, is tired of all the death. Battling the elements and the vengeful ghost, Arthur and Sam make their stand. I was white-knuckling my seat at this point, ready to cry for Mommy. I haven't jumped and yelped like a little girl in a horror film in years. James Watkins was just that good. He relied on tension, shadow and a few good scares to amp up the terror.

Special mention must be made of the creeptastically freaky little toys. Good Golly Miss Molly, these are Satan's playthings, I swear. I can feel the hair on my neck standing on end just thinking about them. I never ever want to look at a toy monkey, clown or doll again. The shudders are wracking my body as I write this.

Woman In Black is a hugely entertaining, good old-fashioned gothic haunted house tale that will keep you up. The story is sinister and disturbing, playing on the ingrained fears of the audience and our imagination to provide the chills. And boy did it work.


George Beremov [Nebular] said...

You were alone in the dark theater? I guess that made the experience even creepier. I was impressed with this one too, and thought both the director and Daniel did an excellent job. The toys, the house and the woman in black all gave me the creeps, and I loved the ending too, because it wasn't cheesy. Fabulous review, hon, I could feel the excitement through your words. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

In the craze of gore and special effects, it's nice to see an effective horror film that doesn't rely heavily on those tricks.

Unknown said...

@Nebular It was an awesome experience and I hope that I can do it again someday soon. I loved the ending as well, it was just right. Aww.. I'm so happy you enjoyed reading this. Thank you for the wonderful compliment.

Unknown said...

@Alex It was great to see a film rely on imagination and scares rather than a food of gore to tell a horrifying story. I look forward to more of these and hope Hammer films has come back with a vengeance.

Craig Edwards said...

Wow, Nebular is right - this is a terrific review that does communicate your excitement and joy watching the movie! I love that you mentioned the toys - I totally forgot to reference them in my review...(do I smell a revision cooking up?) and they were marvelously off-putting. I wonder if they were real antique toys from the time, or new creations designed for maximum creepiness? Thanks for posting this one - makes me want to go watch the movie THAT'S a great critique!

msmariah said...

My sister and I went to see this movie. I really enjoyed it. It was old-school horror at it's best.

If only someone could have dealt with the obnoxious teenagers in the back it would have been sublime.

FilmMattic said...

Excellent review, Melissa! I'm admittedly on the fence about seeing this one, but your superlative thoughts, along with George's, have convinced me to give it further attention. We'll see!

Unknown said...

@Craig Oh my God were those toys horrible. They looked like replica 19th century toys. I had an elderly aunt who had a collection and they were just awful.

I really happy loved my review. Thanks! This was one film I was definitely thrilled about and wanted to see again.

Unknown said...

@msmariah that's why I was so happy to be in that theater alone. There were no obnoxious teenagers. LOL

This is definitely a film I will be owning.

Unknown said...

@Matt See this movie! I think you will really enjoy it. Seriously, it is a very stylish and well-written film. If you do see it, let me know what you think.

सहज समाधि आश्रम said...

nice post

Movies on my Mind said...

I saw this movie in a theatre (UK spelling) and it was packed with teenagers who loved it. There were even kids in the screening under the age of 10, which felt was too young because there are some scary images.

In the UK The Woman in Black has become the third most successful horror movie of all time, usurping Silence of the Lambs. Therein lies the problem, the latter is a very intelligent flick where as Woman in Black is well crafted but very low on subtext. I wanted more intelligence because British horror is usually very clever as it has a tradition of playing with themes of society and class.I guess I would have liked more.