Movie night: The Woman in Black
British official theatrical release poster
A creepy child’s lullaby tinkles as three beautiful girls have an imaginary tea party with porcelain dolls. One girl pours tea, while another brushes her doll’s hair. The children stop playing and look behind them at the door, look at the window, then stand in unison. Walking toward the window, they step on their teacups and smash their hand-painted doll’s faces without so much as a blink. Each girl grasps the handle of the window in front of them, and pushes the window open. They step onto the sill in their pretty dresses that were probably handmade by their mother, and jump to their deaths. A scream of their mother follows. “My babies!” she cries.
And so begins the suspenseful 95 minute movie, The Woman in Black. Based on a book of the same title by Susan Hill, the 2012 release stars Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) as Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer who is on the edge of despair. Raising the son his wife died giving birth to, his job is in danger due to his inability to cope with his wife’s passing four years earlier. His firm sends him on one last job to prove his worth, and off he goes to the village of Cryphin Gifford. His assignment is to go through the documents left behind by the late Mrs. Drablow at the Eel Marsh House just outside of Cryphin Gifford. He leaves his son with a nanny and train tickets to meet him in Cryphin Gifford at a later date.
Arthur meets Mr. Daily on the train, who gives him a ride from the station to the village. The hotel which Arthur was to stay tells him they have no reservation or room for him, but he is allowed to stay in their attic. The attic turns out to be the room from which the three girls jump out the window at the beginning of the film. Their dolls, now cracked and decayed still reside in the room. As Arthur wanders through the town the next morning, he is met with as chilly of a reception as the innkeeper gave him the night before. The town proprietor gives him a thin envelope of documents, tells him he heard Arthur is leaving that day, and even pays his ride to take him back to the train station. So what does Arthur do? That’s right, heads over to the Eel Marsh House to do his job. There he finds more than Mrs. Darblow’s old legal documents, as one would expect to in a creepy old house.
The Woman in Black official movie trailer (via YouTube)
Being sent off on a train ride to a drab village to a mysterious house on business and being met with a cold reception by villagers is reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it works just as well in this movie. With some rightful concerns that Daniel Radcliffe could not rise above his famous role as Harry Potter, which he played for ten years of his young life, from 2001 until 2011. Radcliffe, however, holds his own in this dark thriller, believable even as a widowed man with a young son. His convincing performance left even some negative reviewers showering him with the highest of compliments.
It’s not only Radcliffe and others that solidly deliver in the movie, but the scenery plays a large and quite perfect role in the film as well. A horror period piece that takes place both in a mysterious village and a drab, haunted house, it could have easily been either overdone or underdone…or just plain wrongly done. The picturesque countryside is best served by sunlight, yet that rarely comes, leaving the viewer with an unsettled feeling as Arthur travels throughout the village and meets the unusual, and sometimes quirky inhabitants. The Eel Marsh House itself is perfectly dressed as a deserted, neglected house complete with cobwebs, taxidermy critters on the walls, spooky old toys and furniture, and old papers scattered about. Damaged doors, oil lanterns, and ghastly old pictures on the wall all contribute to the sense that something is amiss at Eel Marsh House.
The movie’s score is simply beautiful, with eerie tones just as required, and haunting melodies that help build suspense and fear. And as for that suspense, Director James Watkins presents it in a beautiful manner. When Arthur is rambling about Eel Marsh House, a toy will move ever-so-slightly on the side of the screen. When nothing moves in a room, the viewer still expects it to happen, which is a good sign of Watkins’ abilities to make a good horror movie. Even though the suspense builds slowly, there are still good old fashioned jumps for the viewer.
While reviews are overall mixed on the movie’s ability to deliver a fright (IMDb gives it 6.4 out of ten and Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 65% on the Tomatometer), you could do far worse for a spooky tale on a dark night.