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Awesome: 5.26%
Worth A Look52.63%
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2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Woman in Black, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Lady Vanishes And Appears And Vanishes And So On. . ."
4 stars

Although the name will presumably fail to ring a bell with younger viewers these days, the name of Hammer Films is one that continues to resonate strongly in the hearts (among other organs) of moviegoers of a certain age and certain tastes. For those unfamiliar, Hammer was a British filmmaking concern that became an international sensation in the late Fifties with a string of horror movies that took such iconic characters as Dracula and Frankenstein's monster and presented them in versions that introduced viewers to previously unimaginable amounts of spurting blood, severed limbs and heaving bosoms as well as such heretofore unknown performers as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. For a while, they were one of the biggest names in genre filmmaking but by the beginning of the Seventies--when the major studios responded to the end of the once-powerful Production Code by upping their levels of on-screen sex and violence--their films began to look as musty and dated as they once made the Universal Pictures horror cycle of the Thirties appear and after a few expensive duds designed to broaden their audience (such as "Shatter," "The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" and a misguided remake of "The Lady Vanishes"), they pretty much went out of business for good.

Since then, there have been a couple of attempts to revive the brand but outside of a TV series bearing the name in the Eighties and a bunch of rumors that never came to fruition but it has only been in the last couple of years that things have begun to look up for the once-proud label via its association with a handful of horror titles, the best-known of the bunch being the English-language remake of the Swedish vampire masterpiece "Let the Right One." "The Woman in Black" is the latest film to bear their imprint and just the sight of their logo at the beginning of the screening I attended was enough to inspire brief applause from at least one fellow critic. The good news is that for the first time in decades, Hammer has finally associated itself with a film worthy of their name--a cheerfully old-fashioned spook show that could have been produced back in the Fifties with the likes of Cushing and/or Lee with nary a change that nevertheless contains enough legitimate jolts to satisfy contemporary viewers despite its incredibly deceptive PG-13 rating. (More about that later.)

In his first big-screen appearance since the end of the Harry Potter franchise, Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer in turn-of-the-century London who is still reeling from the loss of his beloved wife, who died giving birth to son Joseph (Misha Handley) four years earlier. Depressed, despondent and with his job hanging in the balance, he ventures off to the remote Yorkshire village of Crythin Gifford in order to go through the voluminous papers belonging to a recently deceased local woman. When he arrives in town, to say that he receives the cold shoulder from the villagers would be an understatement--the man at the inn insists that they have no room for him except for a forbidding attic where he can spend the night and when he arrives at the town lawyer's to be taken to the woman's even-more-remote mansion, he shoves a few pieces of paper in his hands, insists that is all that he will need and has a carriage out front with his bags packed ready to take him straight to the train station. With the help of modern-thinking resident Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds), a man progressive enough to own the town's first automobile, he finally makes it out to the mansion, a forbidding ruin filled with assorted knick-knacks seemingly designed solely to look spooky in the dark. As Arthur settles in to get to work, he starts to notice strange things, most notably the spectral vision of, yes, a woman in black lurking about. Without getting into too many details, Arthur slowly begins to unravel the mystery behind the ghost and its connection to local tragedies both past and present and tries to put things right before he and his own son become the next victims. (That said, between the spooks and the constant squeaks, he may want to employ the services of an old priest, a young priest and several gallons of WD-40.)

"The Woman in Black" is based on a 1983 novel that has become a cottage industry in England via numerous radio, television and stage adaptations (the latter is currently the second-longest-running play in London history) but even if you have never encountered it before in any of its previous incarnations, it will seem familiar enough to anyone with even a vague interest in stories about the paranormal. And yet, while screenwriter Jane Goldman or James Watkins have hardly reinvented the wheel here, they have at least done a good job of offering up the same old stuff in a reasonably entertaining manner. Largely eschewing blood and guts for moody and increasingly forbidding atmosphere, the film does a pretty good job of creating an aura of creepiness as imposing as the fog that continually hovers over the house and its grim, muddy grounds. The film does rely heavily on "BOO!" effects in which someone or something suddenly appears in the frame--always accompanied by musical stingers that are so heavy that it seems as if composer Marco Beltrami was being paid by the pound--and while that particular approach usually annoys me after a while, I have to admit that it has been employed with an certain degree of skill that is undeniably effective.

The one aspect of "The Woman in Black" that doesn't quite work, ironically enough, is its most seemingly obvious asset--the presence of Daniel Radcliffe in the lead. From an acting standpoint, there is nothing technically wrong with his performance--he is appropriately fearful yet resolute in his determination to get to the bottom of what is going on amidst both the steadily rising hysteria and the mounting body count. However, one key flaw with his appearance is that while considerable effort has been made to make him look older and haggard than usual, the inescapable fact is that he still looks like a kid--an older one, to be sure, but certainly not old enough to plausibly come across as a lawyer, a widower and/or the father of a four-year-old son. The bigger problem, though, is that of all the projects that Radcliffe could have possibly chosen to take part in as a way of demonstrating that he can do more than just be Harry Potter, picking one that finds him once again roaming around a building filled with mysterious apparitions is a bit inexplicable--whenever he is seen fearfully confronting the various spooks, most viewers may find themselves subliminally wondering why he doesn't just offer up some incantation and zap it into the ether. Again, he isn't bad per se but the film at a while might have been more effective if it had starred someone who wasn't so closely associated with this type of storytelling.

Other than that, "The Woman in Black" is a fairly effective old-school spook story and if it doesn't quite manage to crank up the creepiness to the degree that the current "The Innkeepers" does do spectacularly, it does get the job done and is infinitely more successful than the entire "Paranormal Activity" series. That said, it should be noted that parents contemplating taking their kids to see this film because it stars the kid from Harry Potter and finds him once again dealing with spooks and spirits and the like should think twice before doing so. Although it somehow managed to snag a PG-13 rating from the MPAA brain trust, there are a number of extremely disturbing images on display throughout--involving hideous demises, long-dead corpses and the like--and to make matters even more unpleasant, nearly all of them involve young children. Needless to say, I am not exactly the most sensitive or touchy of moviegoers but even I began to feel a bit unnerved by what I was seeing and became convinced that I must have misheard its rating. This doesn't take away from "The Woman in Black" at all--after all, you can hardly dun a horror movie for being unsettling and the imagery never quite trips over into gratuitous nastiness--but if you inexplicably decide to take the wee ones to see it, be prepared for a few sleepless nights on their part and quite possibly yours as well.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22555&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/02/12 21:01:02
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good imho 4 stars
8/07/13 Matthew Thompson Dalldorf A great movie from the "new Hammer". Makes up for the misfire that is 'Wake Wood' 5 stars
6/11/12 Sevarian a solikd entry in the Hammer tradition 4 stars
5/26/12 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Bought the dvd. The movie made me jump a few times. Good old fashioned scary flick. 4 stars
3/21/12 ffa hello 4 stars
2/06/12 Quigley Not as good as it could have been. Radcliffe is miscast. Lots of great atmopshere, though. 3 stars
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  03-Feb-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 22-May-2012


  DVD: 22-May-2012

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