Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Woman in Black (2012)


Widowed attorney Arthur Kipps is far from eager to be parted from his young son, but he's on thin ice at the firm and he needs the job, so off he goes to sort through the mountains of paperwork left behind by recently the recently deceased Widow Drablow, who lived in a creepy house in the middle of a marsh near the village of Crythin Gifford. Something is clearly up, however, when the tavern keeper refuses to let Kipps a room, and he has the devil's own time convincing anyone to give him a ride out to the Drablow manor (rather ominously known as Eel Marsh House).  The house itself is full of weirdness and beyond isolated (the narrow road from the mainland just barely clears the swamp and is fully submerged during high tide), but Kipps is determined to stick it out and finish the job, content in the knowledge that his son will join him in a few days. When local children start dying in tragic accidents, the villagers become increasingly hostile to Kipps, whose only ally is a wealthy skeptic still grieving the loss of his own son years before. What (or who) is causing the children's death? And why?  Does it have anything to do with the mysterious woman in black Kipps keeps seeing?  And will Kipps be able to solve the mystery before his own son arrives in Crythin Gifford?

This movie marks Daniel Radcliffe's first feature film since the Harry Potter series wrapped, and he's clearly trying to move on and leave that role behind him.  Radcliffe is wise to start out with a period piece--more modern fare would seem jarring after seeing him run up and down castle staircases for years.  Unfortunately, he still looks too young for this part.  I realize that folks got married much younger in Victorian days, but for all his 22 years, Radcliffe simply does not look like someone who's gotten married, had a kid, and been through . . . whatever the Victorian version of law school was--apprenticeship or whatever.  He may well be old enough for all that to have happened, but he doesn't look it.  Even with a carefully cultivated layer of stubble, he looks like Harry Potter starring in a school play about Victorian England.

And let's face it, Radcliffe's acting wasn't what sold the Harry Potter movies.  Not that he was bad; he just . . . wasn't amazing.  And the same holds true here.  Acting props go instead to supporting actors Ciaran Hinds (the rich skeptic), Janet McTeer (his nutball wife), and the various kids (both living and dead) who pop up around the village, as well as the real star of the show: Eel Marsh House.

The pace here is most definitely on the slow side.  Perhaps I am too modern a viewer to appreciate the throwback style, presumably a nod to horror films of days long past.  But I'm not convinced that's the case.  Kipps is constantly following a funny noise/image/voice into a room, or out of a room, or into the house, or out of the house, or into the marsh, or up the tavern stairs, and . . . nothing happens.  It's a drinking game waiting to happen.  After about a dozen of these excursions, I confess I started feeling a bit bored.  Then, too, all this running about after squeaks and thumps and such left Kipps precious little time to actually go through the documents he was there to inspect.  If he'd just ignored the noises, buckled down, and gotten his work done, he could have been out of there in a day and half, tops.  Granted, it was a sizable pile of papers, but definitely doable in the two (three?) full days (and a night?) that Kipps spends at the house.  Or it would have been if he'd quit gallavanting around the house like a schoolboy on holiday. No wonder his boss was annoyed with him.

Other ridiculous bone-headery included (a) the villagers, who steadfastly refused to tell Kipps anything about what was going on and yet somehow blamed him for everything, (b) Kipps (again), who didn't bother trying to stop his son from coming to the village until the last possible minute, despite the increasingly creepy events and the general 'haunted town full of crazy people' vibe being exuded from every corner of the village.  But then, I suppose it's foolish to look for logical behavior in a horror movie.

The sluggish plot advancement and convenient stupidity notwithstanding, the effects (when they show up) are decent enough.  The woman in black is creepy, and definitely pops up in subtle and startling ways.  The dead/dying kids are quite creepy, at least in part because of excellent makeup or what-have-you.

Bottom line:  If you're a classic horror film aficionado (or a rabid Radcliffe fan), you should probably check this out.  Otherwise, you're not missing much.

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