The Movie Scab Reviews: "The Woman in Black."
"The scab you're picking at is called execution."
--American film producer Scott Rudin.
Ack! Ack! Ack!
Monkey Boy gives The Woman in Black three Acks! our of five!
The Woman in Black.
Hollywood has almost forgotten how to write, produce and direct a well-told ghost story, but I've got to give the people involved with The Woman in Black credit for at least trying.
They set it up as a traditional old ghost story, which is kind of refreshing, the cast is satisfactory (Daniel Radcliffe does just fine), and the cinematography establishes a creepy world for us to journey through, and that's all well and good until… the crap-splat ending.
Did I feel cheated by the crap-splat ending? Yes. But this is nothing new for Hollywood.
But for a few standouts over the years (the under-appreciated Kevin Bacon ghost story A Stir of Echoes, for example), Hollywood ghost and horror movie endings tend to suck because they're predictable (the bad guys or the evil or whatever wins or continues to exist so that they can make a sequel), and, worse yet, the payoffs at the end of said movies, which should satisfy in a big way, disappoint.
The Woman in Black suffers the same fate.
It's as if the screenwriters took a "how to write a ghost story" course taught by super-duper famous horror novelist Stephen King and followed his kingly advice to the letter--see, the problem with that is, Stephen King is an author who comes up with great stories and then has the hardest time figuring out how to end them so that the reader is satisfied. King payoffs tend to suck.
I don't know why his endings tend to suck. I just know that most of the time they do. For some reason, Stephen King goes for sucky endings. Now, were I to speculate, I could argue that perhaps he likes sucky endings and that's what all this is about, nothing more. And I'm fine with that. Who am I to judge? On the other hand, a fiction writer or two might tell you that sucky endings are easy, which would make Stephen King the most overrated and laziest writer in the country.
Speculation aside, what is most clear is that Stephen King's sucky endings destroy his stories. They're ham-fisted, unsatisfying and they go crap-splat instead of "wowie-wow-wow-wow," as they should.
It is an excellent example of a sucky Stephen King ending: The evil clown in the story is fantastic in all the ways horror can be fantastic, but the big reveal at the end, the big payoff for the reader? An evil floating orange cloud beyond the universe--or something--that we see in the form of a giant space spider--or something.
Add to this Stephen King's Baby Boomer-1960s-worldview that insists sexual intercourse is the surest thing that will keep the good guys up and the bad guy down and you've got one of the worst sucky endings in the history of sucky endings--it's laugh-out-loud silly today.
Memo to King: In case you are unaware, the Swinging Sixties happened a long time ago and the narcissistic, hypocritical Baby Boomer revolution failed. Just sayin'.
Hey! Maybe this is the reason Stephen King is drawn to sucky endings. He carries the enormous weight of generational failure on his narrow Baby Boomer shoulders.
Whatever the case may be, The Woman in Black does the same thing, just without the Baby Boomer mentality (or the sex).
The setup is fine, the haunted house scares are well executed, there's no gratuitous violence, there are a large number of some of the creepiest dolls and toys I've seen in a movie in a long time--kudos to the creepy doll and toy makers--and there's a good old fashioned Victorian haunted house plot: A lawyer (Daniel Radcliffe) goes to an isolated English village to finish some untidy paperwork for his firm, forcing him to take up residence in a house haunted by a vengeful ghost that's been killing children in the village.
Now, during the first half of the movie we get to watch Daniel Radcliffe plod through the haunted house from one room to another, searching for whatever is scaring him. It's meant to build tension so that by the fifth or sixth time the movie-makers think they'll surprise us with a good scare--problem is, watching Radcliffe plod from one room to another is about as much fun as jamming a spork up my butt and bouncing up and down for two hours.
But just when I was about to grab a spork from the couple next to me who were shoveling sporkfuls of chili cheese nachos into their wide open and crunching mouths, Radcliffe stopped plodding around the haunted house, things got interesting and I stopped thinking about jamming a spork up my butt and bouncing up and down.
When Radcliffe places the body of a child in the grave of its long dead mother, well, at that point I was committed, enjoying the movie and certain the mystery would deepen. I figured at least another 20 minutes of cool, creepy storytelling to go, and then… wowie-wow-wow-wow, the payoff!
But instead, they give us a Stephen King sucky ending, slapping us in the face with semi-sweet sentimentality, leaving the mystery unsolved. And worse yet, the bitchy, "victimized" ghost, the one who's been killing the children in the village for years, gets away with it and, of course, she's going to continue killing--ah, yes, the evil remains and blah, blah, blah, been there, done that, seen it a billion times.
I guess the most surprising thing about this movie is that its intentions were good. It's execution wasn't bad. And then they bungled the ending.
Here's what I wanted and did not get: Serious payback for the evil bitchy ghost. I wanted a show-down between Radcliffe and the ghost that ended with Radcliffe sending her straight to hell. Or in the least, burn the haunted house down.
So if you like the kind of thrill ride that has a lot of promise, good setup, characters and storytelling, but doesn't thrill at the end, lay your money down. But if you're like me, a much more demanding thrill ride seeker, skip it and meet me at the bar.
My rating: five 40 ounce bottles of Olde English HG 800 malt liquor, followed by three Pimm's Number One Cups, one after the other. Make sure you've got a plastic spork for plodding and a copy of Stephen King's It that's thick enough to stun an ox. Find a scary looking circus clown and ask him to beat you in the face with Stephen King's book until you're semi-conscious.Then, sit back and enjoy the movie.