“The Woman in Black” is a tale of mediocrity with jump scares. The acting is okay but at times it is absolutely farfetched. The setting and the atmosphere are the things this movie really has going for it. The story itself is as weak as a bland tea and left me with a lot of questions. Walking out of the theater, I came up with at least three different endings that would have made the movie much more satisfactory.
The story takes place in Edwardian age London where Arthur Kipps, played by Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter, is venturing to Eel Marsh estate to take care of the it’s paperwork. Radcliffe plays a young lawyer who is dealing with the loss of a wife and managing a four-year old boy. The conflict facing Arthur Kipps is that the estate is menacingly foreboding. It’s also got a very illogical curse on it which makes me wonder why the village hasn’t burned the house to the ground. The supporting actors do a fine job. Radcliffe does well in this roll, but at times it feels like he’s a boy dressed up in a man’s clothing. His role as a parent doesn’t feel natural like it does with the other actors. That is not to say that he would never be able to play the roll of a father, I just think he should wait a few more years.
The atmosphere is the most alluring part of this movie. The foggy streets of London feel like they were lifted out of a Sherlock Holmes story. The small town he arrives in feels isolated and gives all the same setting elements (small town, cold, gothic) that Hammer studios made popular with it’s re-telling of the stories of Dracula and Frankenstein. Eel Marsh itself seems to ooze fear. The moment you see it it’s almost the textbook definition of what a haunted house would look like.
While the atmosphere shines, the story line is really lackluster. The spine chilling effects of the house and setting is just not enough. Sadly, the movie resorts to the cheapest tactic of all- jump scares. The cheap scares are too many to count and they become so predictable that you begin to expect them behind every corner. The problem is, after enough of them even Radcliffe seems to have had enough. Lastly, his character doesn’t seem nearly shocked enough to be in a house that is clearly haunted by supernatural entities.
Without giving away too much there is not a lot of reason for the things that are happening here. When it comes to a ghost story a little background is often very welcome. It makes the audience sometimes wonder more about the person haunting the place. Take for example: “The Ring”. You knew a ton about Samara and almost sympathized with her before you realized she was a completely malevolent character. In “The Woman in Black” it’s one big mystery that you get only small answers to. Things are kind of tossed in a bag of “it’s haunted, go with it.”
Would I say this is a bad movie? Not particularly. However, I wouldn’t recommend going to the theaters to see it. If you want to see it at all, rent this one. It’s a movie that is flawed in a lot of ways but it wasn’t completely unwatchable. My guess is if they gave it another pass through the editing room, re-shot some scenes, and maybe gave it an R or UR rating, it could be really good. Not every haunted house movie is going to be the original 1963 version of “The Haunting”. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.