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The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

What She said:

She

I see Daniel Radcliffe and I cringe, not so much because he’s perpetually typecast because of Harry Potter, more because of the whole Equus thing.  I think of Equus and I get a chill up my spine.  Anyway, I wasn’t exactly excited to watch The Woman in Black but I was also hoping that Radcliffe would surprise me and that I’d get a few thrills and chills along the way.

I have to say that as an actor, Radcliffe has come a long way.  He still seems to be taking himself too seriously, but he’s developing into something a bit more convincing than his Harry Potter self.  That said, The Woman in Black was a bit tedious for me.  Granted, I was absolutely exhausted when I watched it, but I did have some trouble following the plot from time to time, and things seemed to drag on.  It seemed like it took a while for the story to fully reveal itself, which made moments early on a little frustrating.  I know I say this time and time again, but I was also a little disappointed by the character development.  There are lots of characters here, but we know so little about most of them that they’re all interchangeable with not much to distinguish them from one another. 

I should probably back up and tell you about the story.  Radcliffe is a young widower lawyer in what appears to be early 1900s England.  He’s not really thriving professionally and is told that if he fails at closing the deal on this latest estate sale, he’s pretty much done.  He has his 4 year old son to worry about, and is committed to doing his best.  So Radcliffe goes to this town to get the estate in order and sell the home.  The house itself sits in the middle of marshlands, and every day, multiple times a day, it becomes an island as the tides ebb and flow.  When he gets to the town, he’s rebuffed by almost everyone there.  They simultaneously show hatred and fear.  Radcliffe goes to the house anyway, and seems to unleash an angry ghost that is killing the town’s children.  There’s more to it, but I don’t want to give away too many of the details. 

The film definitely has some spooks, but they almost all take place during the sequences when Radcliffe is at the house.  You’ll be disappointed whenever he’s not there because you’ll know you’re in for one of the more uninteresting stretches of the movie.  I like the way that the horror is presented—a lot of in the background stuff, doors slamming, creepy toys, that type of thing.  Visually, the movie is dark and feels very period, which is creepy.  And that helps the film be a bit better where it was otherwise lacking.  It clocks in at only an hour and a half, but it’ll feel longer.  It’s not horrible, but you better pack your patience.

Thumbs half up.

What he said:

He

I remember when I first saw pictures of this on the internet I had absolutely no idea what it was, but just kept thinking “Oh, look at Harry Potter trying to acting all grown up.” I had actually assumed it was a period piece based on his wardrobe. I’m not the biggest fan of period pieces and I (incorrectly) assumed Radcliffe was going for a something the exact opposite of Potter.  I get that actors – particularly younger ones – want to break away from certain roles and want to be taken more seriously, but there is nothing more cliché to me than when an actor goes “edgy” (Selena Gomez, Emma Watson, and Robert Pattison I’m looking at you) just for the sake of it. Thankfully, I don’t think Radcliffe did that at all (though you could argue he did with Equus) with this film. Also, when I realized it wasn’t a period piece, I was a little more interested.  Then I heard some pretty decent reviews and while I wasn’t interested enough in going to see it in theaters, I figured I would be checking it out one day.

Daniel Radcliffe is Arthur Kipps. Arthur is a single father whose wife died during childbirth. Naturally this affects him a great deal. There is a certain sadness about him that goes along with losing a loved one, but it’s more than that.

We learn that he is also barely hanging onto his career and that jeopardizes his ability to provide for his son; which causes him more stress. He is a young lawyer who has yet to prove himself and his firm is “this close” to letting him go. A new opportunity emerges when his firm is charged with a selling a large estate in another town. It seems like a challenging task, but not an impossible one. 

However, the odds seem greatly stacked against him once he actually gets to the town itself. People are looking at him funny. Some even encourage him to walk away from the job. At a certain point, some of them intervene and even threaten to block him from doing his job. They don’t even want him to see the place, let alone go into it. It is then told to him – by a local man named Sam Daily – that the town is extremely superstitious. There’s a local legend of a woman who haunts the town. She is referred to as “the woman in black”. Oh yeah and she just so happens to have lived at the estate he is trying to sell. Sounds like a blast, huh?

Arthur doesn’t care about local superstitions. He just wants to do his job and go home to his son. He also doesn’t really believe in any of this stuff, which is a part of the reason Sam (Ciarán Hinds) has befriended him. Sam thinks the entire town is crazy and wants to help Arthur do his job and go home to his boy. He also has a wife who may or may not be batshit crazy.

Once Arthur is actually able to get to the estate and begin going through the never-ending pile of paperwork, some weird stuff starts to happen and he starts to give a little credence to local legends. He starts to see and hear things, but Sam tries to convince Arthur he is merely stressed out by the whole situation. Could the woman in black actually be real or is Sam right and Arthur seeing things?

As a horror film, there were not a lot of “jump out of your seat” moments. The movie wasn’t completely void of them, but it didn’t have as many as I would have liked. I will say that its scares come more in the form of tone and setting. There was an eerie vibe about the movie. I can’t really go too much into it, but it revolves mostly around the legend of the woman in black and what she supposedly does. Her shtick sort of creeped me out a bit (the trailer lets you in on it without spoiling anything if you’re interested). I also really liked the whole Edwardian setting. I may not love period pieces, but a period piece with a ghost story kind of worked for me. People were more prone to chalk up something they couldn’t explain to mysticism back then, so there’s a sense of panic going on here that I enjoyed.

Some critics noted that it is a little formulaic. I can agree that the movie was not anything groundbreaking, but I wouldn’t say I found it totally predictable. I was definitely interested in what was going on and found it to be an entertaining movie.  I think it’s better than a lot of the other garbage that passes for a ghost story nowadays (and the critical reviews reflect that).  

Radcliffe was fine too. It was not an academy award performance, but delivered what the role called for. Though you still do feel like you’re seeing Harry Potter every time you see him, but that’s more because you associate him with it and not because of his performance.

Rating: Thumbs up

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on June 6, 2012