The Woman in Black 2012: A Great Looking Bore.
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Liz White, Janet McTeer
It's a shame, really, when a director manages to create a number of luminous visual images but never allows anything interesting to happen in front of them. Anyone's who has seen a trailer for The Woman in Black knows what a good looking film it is, yet all the elaborate and eye-catching visual flourishes in the world can't save a screenplay that's as shallow, murky and silly as what scribe Jane Goldman has wrought here. Make any effort to make sense of the plot, and you're bound to be lost. Try to connect with any of the characters on screen, and your efforts will be in vain. Outside of the visuals, there is nothing here to really engage the audience. It's a classic case of style over substance.
The story sounds simple enough: Young Victorian-era Estate lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is sent to the Gothic Eel Marsh House in a remote village to search through the papers of the house's late owner, Mrs. Alice Drablow. The villagers, apart from the kind hearted Mr. Daily (Ciarán Hinds), greet Arthur with much hostility the moment he arrives and demand that he leave. But Arthur's work at his firm has been in a little bit of a slum since the passing of his wife in child birth four years earlier, and he needs this job to help support him and his son (Radcliffe's real-life godson Misha Handley).
We learn that the village has been haunted, nay cursed, by the title character who lost her son in an incident which, if I understood the back story correctly, the villagers had nothing to do with. So why is she so angry with them? We also learn that anytime anyone sees the infamous Woman in Black, one of the local children commit suicide. This has been happening for many years. Have any of the villagers tried packing up and leaving? Is this the Woman in Black's punishment against the villagers for them seeing her? If so, why does she bother revealing herself if it angers her so to be seen?
Some of this may be easy enough to answer for those who have read Susan Hill's 1983 novel upon which this movie is based, but even that's not a sure thing. Some of the plot holes would have been easy to overlook had the film been at least mildly creepy, but unfortunately it's not. Director James Watkins tries to build an atmosphere of menace with strange noises in the dead of night and ominous figures lurking in the background, but for the most part, he relies way too heavily on jump scares and loud musical stings to no avail. Some of the horror movie scenes make little sense when evaluated within the context of the story (one sequence involving Arthur being haunted by the Woman in Black's son, who was buried in the marshes; Mr. Daily's wife, played by Janet McTeer, is frequently possessed by the spirit of her dead son, I think), and those that do make sense are directed in such a ham-fisted and pedestrian way that they end up falling flat.
There is very little about The Woman in Black that is actually worth recommending. Daniel Radcliffe is horribly miscast in the leading role, far too young for the part and lacking the acting prowess to really bring the character to life. The characters are thin and poorly developed (this is especially true of the title character, who had the potential to be a particularly haunting figure but comes across as a slasher movie villain). The final scene at a train station is a treacly cop out and makes less sense the more one thinks about it. Even the visuals, which are admittedly well done, lose their power as the film progresses. If you want to see a ghost story like this done right, then go out and rent Peter Medak's 1981 horror gem The Changeling with George C. Scott. Or better yet, Ti West's newest horror endeavor The Innkeepers is available to watch online or in theaters. That film will show you how it should be done.
Final Grade: * (out of ****)