Truth be told, I have never been a big fan of haunted house stories. Sure, the occasional one will come along and knock me off my feet, but for the most part, people walking around houses seeing one thing, hearing another, doesn’t really get to me. Not to mention, these being Hollywood films, there is the inevitable part when they have to explain and resolve everything, and this, as I have said countless times, takes away from an overall enjoyment of the movie. Insidious, while better than most, suffered towards the end when everything had to come to a close. So, getting to Woman in Black, I was pretty doubtful that a movie that was adapted from an old story to the screen by the same gal that wrote Kick-Ass and starred Harry Potter would be not only an almost scareless experience, but one that would be less than enjoyable to someone who already does not care for haunted house movies.
I would have to say, that, for the most part, I was wrong. Daniel Radcliffe makes quite the transition from child wizard from the Potter movies to father and widower in this one. But, even if the character of Arthur Kipps was a real downer of a character, Radcliffe was pretty darn good. He has gone from looking like Harry Potter to almost a little Depp-style Ichabod Crane-ish. And, while I was skeptical at first, was eventually pulled into his realm of emotions. However, where the film really got me was the direction, which was done by James Watkins. Watkins, who did a much underrated horror film called Eden Lake a few years ago, makes most of the right decisions here. With a true gothic look to his film, the production design and lighting, along with the almost lost art of using smoke machines as fog, were superb and always kept you on your toes. The way that the marsh around the castle plays a big role in the film and the total absence of jump scares (at least in the first 40 minutes) were very well done, and I would dare say that Watkins is going to be a horror director to be reckoned with for years to come.
The movie had a real slow build, with occasional spooky looks at kids in windows to let you know that there is something brewing on the horizon. However, once again, as the story of who the ‘woman in black’ really was started coming out little by little, that was when interest in the film started to fade for me. Also, while I had said that Watkins had kept the jump scares down in the first 40 minutes or so, from then on he unleashed an onslaught of them, making me not jump in fear as much as groan in boredom. I thought for sure that a movie that was having an old style build up would have the ability to scale back on the tendency to use as lazy a tactic as juicing up music for a false scare. In addition, as is the case with most of these films, bonehead decisions by characters near the finale led me to really want to throw my popcorn at the screen. However, I would say that, for the most part, Hammer Films lashed out a pretty decent horror flick with The Woman in Black. A decent story, a truly horrific gothic setting, toys that would scare even the most tolerant a horror fan (at least this one, being that old school toys already have a tendency to scare me), Watkins and writer Jane Goldman hack up at least a few great scares to make the film pretty watchable. Radcliffe has moved on from his earlier career nicely, and this is a step in the right direction for the old style gothic horror tale. Come on, Hammer! Bring us more!