Sony // 2012 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // May 21st, 2012
What did they see?
It can't be easy for an actor to spend the majority of his young life known worldwide as an iconic boy wizard and then, when the goose stops laying golden eggs, have to build an adult career with that character pinned to his back. I hope that, over time, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) will succeed at overcoming this baggage. With stage work in Peter Schaffer's Equus and the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and this his first substantial adult role, he's off to a good start. The character Daniel plays in The Woman in Black is different from what his fans are accustomed to, which is great. It would have been even greater, if the movie was more interesting.
It's been a long time since his wife died during childbirth, but Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) has remained unable to cope and it's nearly ruined his life. His real estate firm has lost patience, giving him one final chance to sell the Eel Marsh House, a dilapidated estate with a dark and violent past. His arrival angers of the townspeople and, apparently, a woman in black who lurks about the creepy old place. Little does Kipps know he must confront a case of dead children and revenge from beyond the grave.
The Woman in Black is an atmospheric ride into a ghostly Irish past that looks pretty and is well performed, but the story leaves plenty to be desired, both in interest and coherence. I like how the story gets going, quickly establishing the extended grief Kipps feels about his wife and how that grief feeds into his loving but distant relationship with his young son. This is a classic opening to a supernatural tale, but as the character gets more involved in the history of the town and the intriguing tragedy befallen it, Kipps's past is pushed aside so he can deal with the present. However, when it becomes convenient and necessary, screenwriter Jane Goldman (adapting Susan Hill's novel) has no hesitation about bringing back the past like it mattered the entire time.
Because of this, The Woman in Black feels half written. It's easy to forget Kipps is a widowed father, which is especially poor because the whole story deals with the ongoing deaths of children in the town. This should feed his fears and paranoia, but instead he becomes obsessed with the villagers and his tasks in the house, quickly forgetting the rest. It wouldn't be as big a deal, if these events didn't turn out to be so important to the climax of the story.
Director James Watkins (Eden Lake) lets his scenes breathe for quite a long time, which is great. It helps with the atmosphere -- something the movie has in spades -- and very nicely sets the stage for scares that never come. Some of the early ghost imagery is eerily effective and the way the town reacts to Kipps adds a certain level of intrigue, but the horror doesn't come across as effective as it should. Most of the frights are standard jump scares (a couple of which are particularly cheap) and all of them are predicated on loud sudden noises and movements.
Luckily, The Woman in Black does have its performances to fall back on, and they are universally fantastic. In fact, they're much better than your average horror movie, especially Daniel Radcliffe who's a genuine surprise. I stopped watching the Harry Potter movies after Goblet of Fire, because Radcliffe annoyed me as Harry and I saw no growth in his acting abilities. Here, however, he acquits himself, turning in a character quite a bit older than his actual age and doing so compellingly. Radcliffe spends a great deal of time by himself in long silent scenes, keeping them moving with nuanced emotional choices that don't require words to convey the message. The other big player in the story is Ciaran Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), a fantastic character actor who portrays Daily, a sort of father figure who bridges the gap between Kipps and the townspeople, giving that aspect of the story a significant weight. It's just a shame the other aspect is all but forgotten.
The Woman in Black (Blu-ray) arrives from Sony looking decent in high definition. The 2.35:1/1080p transfer is crisp and clear with strong detail. The colors are considerably muted, but nicely delineated with deep black levels. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is strong, though maybe not as strong as the visuals. There is good separation between channels and a decent amount of pop in the low end, but the track isn't nearly as dynamic as it could be. Most of the bigger sounds are reserved for the jump scares, which aren't that great to begin with.
Bonus features are slim, fronted by a self-congratulatory audio commentary from director James Watkins and writer Jane Goldman, plus a pair of worthless featurettes about the production and Radcliffe's character.
While the performances make up for some of the storytelling lapses, The Woman in Black is too uninteresting and reliant on scare cliches to recommend. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by Daniel Radcliffe and look forward to seeing him in more adult roles.
Has its moments, but still Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site