Ever since seeing the original Japanese ‘Ju:On’ series, the horror genre – particularly in Western cinema – has been fighting a losing battle. The last big horror film I remember being released at multiplexes was a Paranormal Activity film, the original being a film that made me cry with laughter more than anything else.
Were it not for family recommendations to see this film, I probably would not have been so interested – Daniel Radcliffe’s first genuine attempt to escape his ‘Harry Potter’ name tag on the big screen, in a film based on a play based on a book.
The Woman In Black is an old-school ‘haunted house’ film set in Victorian times, about a lawyer named Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), who has fallen on hard times financially after the death of his wife. Struggling to raise his child and deal with his grief, his boss gives him one last chance to straighten himself out, by sending him to a lost corner of England to help sell an estate. Upon his arrival at the local village, it soon becomes apparent the locals want him gone as soon as possible – being superstitious, they believe the vengeful spirit of the title is set to cause the deaths of several children if her isolated homestead is disturbed. Kipps, needing to prove himself, heads to the haunted house regardless, and not soon after, every child in the village – including his own – is on the chopping block.
The marketing material for this film claimed that the approach would be based around the ‘suggested’, only hinting at the scares, and leaving most of the work to the audience’s imagination. I have to say, the film is an epic fail on this account – if anything, the antagonist is revealed far too quickly, and I’m sad to say this is definitely a ‘jump’ film, forcing me to draw comparisons with the style of I Am Legend.
The sets are lavish and well-constructed, and there is a fair amount of tension-building as Kipps wanders the house alone – not a lot happens for the first forty minutes or so. However, once the jumps start, they come thick and fast, never really letting the audience relax until the climax. Most of these jumps though are entirely unnecessary – pigeons falling down chimneys, faulty plumbing exploding etc.
But for all of the things this film does wrong, there is an equal amount of what it does right – once the sun goes down and Kipps is alone in the house, you know things are gonna ‘get real’. The ensuing jaunts in the house culminate in perhaps the most nerve-wracking thirty minutes of cinema in recent history – I have not heard an audience scream (nor seen popcorn fly) as much as this since the CUEAFS screened ‘White Ghost’ back in 2009. Drawing comparisons to Japanese horror, if you’re a fan, you can definitely see where the inspirations have been drawn from in this film. Kipps opens a door to find nobody there, but when he closes it, there are suddenly footprints from the door back up the staircase he just went down. The woman in black herself is modeled upon tricks I’ve seen several times before in ‘hair-horrors’ also – not particularly original, but more than enough to do the job if you’re new to this style of horror.
All things considered, even if you don’t scare easily, this is an entertaining romp. Radcliffe handles himself well, as does his supporting cast. The story moves along at a fair pace, and the final act – though cliched – leads to a rather unexpected ending. If you’re new to the genre, this will scare you. If you’re well-experienced with horror though, this could make you laugh. But importantly – you will laugh with the film rather than at it.