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John’s Horror Corner: The Woman in Black (2012)

June 11, 2012

MY CALL:  Three things, ordered from good to bad. 1) Daniel Ratcliffe can actually perform non-Harry Potter roles effectively. 2) The mood in this movie was very cool, though misadvertised.  This is a horror flick, but the mood is more mystery/thriller-ish.  3) This film has no synthesis and then just “ends” without a real ending. [C/C-] WHAT TO WATCH INSTEAD:  Some house-themed horror-mysteries that pleased me include The Skeleton Key (2005), Session 9 (2001), What Lies Beneath (2000), and maybe The Others (2001) or Darkness (2002).

Let’s just be real for a moment.  When I saw the preview for this I saw This Old House meets a period piece version of Dead Silence with a Nightmare on Elm Street nursery rhyme.  Throw in Harry Potter’s Daniel Ratcliffe and I’m even more skeptical.  I didn’t doubt he could act.  I loved him as Harry Potter.  I just didn’t trust that he could convince me that he act any other role.

Ratcliffe plays Arthur, an alcoholic English widower who is leaving his small boy for a few days of work out of town.  He is a lawyer charged with auditing a dead woman’s estate to ensure that a final will and testament is held.  His arrival to the small town is met with unwelcome.  The local tavern “lost” his reservation and has no room available except for the attic where, in the opening scene, we saw the three young daughters of the tavern keepers commit synchronized suicide. 

In fact, all of the locals from peasant to commissioner are not only aware of the lawyer’s presence, but they all clearly don’t want him there.  The uncooperative commissioner tries to convince him that there is no need to audit the house; that he already has all of the relevant documents.  They go so far as to convince him that all means of contact to London are barred.  But one local man, Mr. Daily, whom he met on the train, was kind to him.

We also quickly learn that the theme of the movie is the random death of small children…and it’s somehow linked to the marsh estate.  The remote, ocean tide-bound estate is decrepit, dark, stony and cold.  In the beginning it’s not really very eerie.  The occasional, quiet sighting of the woman in black and some loud, cheap scare tactics keep us on our toes, though.  It went something like this…

Hey, what’s that out of focus thing moving in the background.  OMFG!  The woman in black!

What’s that there?  Right there…to the left…in the doorway, out of focus.  WTF!  The woman in black!

What a fabulous view.  FML! The woman in black!

When Arthur has nowhere to stay, the Daily’s host him.  Mrs. Daily is clearly still disturbed from the loss of her son nearly twenty years ago and is medicated, apparently with ether, to suppress delusions of serving as her dead son’s medium.  Mr. Daily (Ciarán Hinds; Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) warns of chasing shadows with superstition and furiously defends him from the lynch mob mentality of the other townsfolk who swear that Arthur is to blame for a recent child’s death.  You sympathize with Mr. Daily, who supplies travel, alcohol and the companionship of his dog.  But you also can’t help but to wonder why he is so helpful.

Yeah, I was REALLY worried about the dog, too.

The scares and creepiness become more tactful, but the film is more intriguing than it is horror-ish.  I want to know what’s going on whereas, in most horror, I’m there to be scared or gored and am simply along for the ride to discover the backstory’s motive or origin.  Later on, the movie turns into a fruitless ghost wild goose chase.

Creepy-intriguing writing on the wall.

Creepy-intriguing toys and rocking chairs.

Creeped out and intrigued Harry Potter with a hatchet.

For me the ending was the major disappointment.  I was given no closure as to why the ghost was doing what it was doing or why the story ended the way that it did.  I’m most disturbed that I had read about a sequel to this movie.  Why have a sequel to a story that has no middle or end?  Essentially, from the time of the first act, we never get anything new that sticks throughout the movie.

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