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The Woman In Black (2012)
Director: James Watkins

review by Max Cairnduff

As I kid I used to enjoy roller coasters. The slow, suspenseful creaking rise to the top, the sudden breathlessness of descent, the dizzying twists and turns and screaming my lungs out safely knowing that terrifying as it all was none of it was truly real. It's no surprise that I went on to love horror films. If The Woman In Black were a roller coaster it would be one designed for younger children, perhaps featuring seats shaped like tea cups. It would scare, but not very much, and even then only if you hadn't been on many fairground rides before.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, an Edwardian solicitor and single father who recently lost his wife as she gave birth to his young son. Since that tragedy he has been struggling at work, and he's now on his last chance. He's being sent to Eel Marsh House, a remote property whose owner has just died and who left a great many papers that need to be worked through.

I've nothing against Daniel Radcliffe as an actor, but he's not well cast here. Arthur Kipps as written is a struggling man tortured by grief, already a father and widower both. Radcliffe just seems too young to have lived through all that, and perhaps too emotionally flat. I didn't believe his Arthur Kipps, and that's a problem because I spent a long time with him in this film.

Once at Eel Marsh House, Kipps/ Radcliffe finds the usual suspicious locals keen to deter him from staying, and a mansion that may not be as unoccupied as he had been led to believe. The woman in black is there, a malevolently spectral presence and, as her fury becomes evident, Kipps desperately tries to work out her secret and how she can be laid to rest. I've seen the theatrical version of The Woman In Black, and loved it. It's heavy on suspense, with most of the ghostly occurrences being rocking chairs moving on their own or slamming doors with nobody to slam them. Here the horrors are more, well, obvious.

The woman in black charges, screeching, towards the camera. A distraught mother carves spirit messages underlining already evident plot developments. Children die in numbers sufficient to depopulate the village (a prelude scene at the beginning shows that the woman can control children's minds to make them commit suicide). Lights black out, creepy toys feature heavily, slimy dead crawl out from previously empty beds. There's a lot going on.

That, in a nutshell, is the film's problem. There's too much going on; and too little of it is genuinely scary. I jumped a lot. This is a film with lots of little shocks. I never actually felt afraid though, because the shocks were so obviously CGI and ultimately who can be scared by computer animation?

Worse, much of the film is just sloppy. At one point, Kipps spends the night alone in the house, with only a dog to keep him company. The dog then appears in some scenes, seems forgotten in others, like a computer game character with time between re-spawns. Meanwhile in the midst of a near-slaughter of the village's children Kipps somehow forgets until it's too late to cancel that he's invited his own child to come stay with him. Really..?

The Woman In Black is a 12 certificate, and perhaps that's all I really need to say about it. Watch it with 12 year olds and it'll deliver scares in abundance, give them a few nightmares, and questions about how convincingly Radcliffe portrays grief won't even occur to them. It looks great, and for existing Radcliffe fans it'll be a pleasure to see him taking on a more adult role (even if for old cynics like me he didn't persuade in it).

If though you want more from horror cinema than choreographed jumps and shudders that become increasingly predictable as the movie drags on, before sputtering out in an ending that undoes the impact of everything that's gone before, do yourself a favour and buy a copy of The Changeling instead. It's from 1980, there are no special effects to speak of, but it is scary. The Woman In Black, sadly, isn't.

The Woman In Black DVD comes with a making of featurette, a featurette on Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, interviews with James Watkins and Jane Goldman, an interview with Daniel Radcliffe, a 'red carpet special', a ghost story competition, and of course the theatrical trailer, teaser trailers, and the usual gallery of images.

The Woman in Black

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