So this weekend, I had the choice of two movies: The Woman In Black or Chronicle. Having already been burnt by the last found footage film I saw (and seriously sick of the effect), I chose The Woman In Black. It seems I chose well.
I will, however, start this review with a disclaimer. The Woman In Black is based on an English play, which was based on an English book. If you know anything about English storytelling, you’ll know that this means that stories tend to start out slow. The English love to build the plot and suspense and prefer the use of such over cheap shocks, chills and thrills. So please know that this is not your typical American in-your-face with the blood and guts horror flick.
Personally, I found this completely refreshing.
We get a sneak peek of the movie’s creep factor from the very first scene, which begins innocently enough. Three young girls are sitting down to tea with their dolls. I’ll leave it at that, so as not to spoil the story here that introduces the film perfectly.
After the intro, we meet a young solicitor (Daniel Radcliffe), Arthur Kipps, a widowed man with a four-year-old son. Arthur, who lives in London, has to go to the village of Crythin Gifford to attend to the affairs of a woman who died there.
At Crythin Gifford, Arthur realizes that the village does not exactly welcome him, save for one man: Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds). The town has a suspicion about the house that Arthur must visit in order to tend to his business and thinks his presence will stir up evil. Which it does.
The film takes its time in letting the story of Arthur and the town begin to unfold, which sets the tone nicely for the first real shocking moment that comes when Arthur is in the house. I will admit that once the film got to that point, I shrieked, along with the teenagers who sat behind me. There is such a nice build-up to it that you really can’t help yourself. From there, the film begins to pick up steam like an avalanche.
This is also when things get scary. Again, it’s not so much with the cheap thrills that many of today’s movies seem to rely on, but with a creepy atmospheric camera, acting, lighting and sound effects. There are the things that happen off-screen that will send chills up and down your spine, things you can only hear in surround sound. But the visuals are also so well done that they might very well have you peeing in your pants a little bit by the time you see the final creepy frame.
Like many people, I have trouble seeing Daniel Radcliffe and not thinking of him as Harry Potter. However, he breaks out of that, although his character has very little dialogue. His acting style fits the suspenseful tale of the movie itself, making you forget that he once wore glasses and had a lightning bolt scar on his forehead.
One of my favorite actors, Ciaran Hinds, is wonderful as Sam Daily, a modern Englishman who scoffs at the town’s superstitions, in spite of having lost his son to the very thing the town is suspicious of.
The end of the movie is reminiscent of The Ring, without all the weird visuals. The final frame is a simple one and yet will chill you to the bone and I was pretty happy to have seen this at a matinee and to walk out of the theater into daylight afterwards, rather than night.
The Woman In Black is a good example of what a horror film can do when it takes the time to actually tell the story and get you emotionally invested in its characters. This is the more difficult path, but the pay-off is totally worth it.