Yesterday, I went to go see The Woman in Black in theatres. Now, please keep in mind during this review that I have not read the book, and thus comments such as, “That was explained in the book,” or “The book did it better,” may well be true, but I did not know them at the time of watching, nor will I base my opinion of the movie on them. That being said, let me get into the meat of things.
The set-up is an interesting one. Old-timey setting, interesting little introduction scene of three children leaping to their deaths, revelation of family tragedy of the main character, Arthur Kipps, and then he’s whisked away to a backwater village in order to sort out a legal matter. The matter isn’t, to the best of my memory, fully explained – he’s there to double-check some information in a mountain of paperwork inside an old manor-house, so the assumption is that whoever lived there recently died and there’s a dispute of ownership. However, he gets there and finds that everything is covered in dust and cobwebs, and people in the village mention that no one has lived there in years. Perhaps some connecting piece of imformation was mentioned and I just didn’t catch it, I’m not sure.
Anyway, as the story goes on, Kipps finds himself seeing unpleasant things in the house. A spectral figure of a woman in black, of course. Things moving. Shadows and figures darting about. Typical horror movie fare. And in the village, people are hostile to him, urging him to leave, and then blaming him for the children who seem to start dying shortly after his arrival. And let’s not forget the woman who believes she’s channeling the spirit of her deceased son and scratches the image of a hanged woman into the table in front of him. There’s a mystery to be solved!
Rather than have the main character get goaded into solving the mystery and vanquishing the ghost in a determined fashion, I was actually happy to see him demonstrate some very real fear. I’m always happy to see characters act fearful, because, well, those events are creepy, and evoke fear! Having them get determined and with a set jaw is all well and good, but let’s be honest; it’s a minority of people who face threats like that with nothing but anger at the violation of their personal space.
The movie was tremendously atmospheric, building a great deal of tension as the scenes went on. Unfortunately, a good deal of the tension was ruined by bog-standard jump-scares and overdone creepy imagery. The woman in black has a distorted face beyond her blach veil, skin mottled and dead, which, frankly, didn’t need to be done to make her scary to the audience. The effect of her standing shadow-like and quiet in a corner did far more to get my heart racing than the times she leapt screaming at the camera when her face was clear. The creepy images of old toys moving of their own accord (especially that doll with the pointed teeth – who in hell makes something like that!?) lingers in my mind more than the sound of that scream. It was overdone in some places, and while yes, I did jump at all the right times, I was hoping for more subtle scares.
It reminded me a bit of The Ring, the North American version of the Japanese movie Ringu (if you haven’t seen either, I recommend you do). Dead people were found with their faces warped in fear, pale and greenish and partially rotting. Someone had asked the producers of the movie if they did that as a representation of what a person would look like after spending 7 days underwater, as Samara had in the well. The reply was, “No, we just thought it looked creepy.” Creepy, but pointless, and ultimately not what people will remember.
The only other thing that bothered me about the movie were the appearances of all the dead children that the woman in black had taken. Kipps sees them at night, in the house, surrounding it silently and being very creepy about it. Effective as a scare, but why were they there? The only thing that makes sense to me is that they were there, at the house, because that’s where the woman was, and just as she had taken their lives now she wouldn’t let them go even in death. But that doesn’t tally with the ending of the movie, when the woman in black lures the Kipps’s son onto the railroad tracks, and both the son and Kipps die. They presence of the Kipps’s dead wife, glowing and dressed in white as a contrast to the darkness, signify that nope, when you die you can move on even if the woman is the one who lures you to your death. So why were the children there? Coming up with an explanation requires some mind-twisting that goes beyond the context of the movie, and ultimately I can only conclude that the children were there mostly to creep the audience out again.
But in spite of its flaws, the story and the atmosphere of this movie were commendable, and it was highly effective at scaring the living crap out of me. It’s definitely intrigued me enough to want to read the book (the review of which will likely be coming later this month, as there’s now a copy of it that I have access to). I rate this movie 4 out of 5 teacups, since that’s how many I’ll need to drink to calm down before going to sleep.