Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: The Woman in Black

I find that the horror genre is one of the most polarizing amongst fans of movies.  Most either love them or hate them.  I am on the pro-horror side of that argument though I must say I don’t care much for films within the genre that amount to little more than gore fests or torture porn.  I am partial to suspenseful storytelling mixed with the occasional cheap scare.  The problem is that these movies have increasingly become homogenized.  Take a look at titles such as The Ring, The Tooth Fairy, Insidious, Shutter – the list goes on and on.  These films and so many others overuse mechanisms such as the veiled vengeful female ghost as an antagonist, images in windows and mirrors, photographs, scary dolls, and creepy kids, that it’s become hard to discern one film from the other.  Still, the fan base is loyal and so the movies keep coming.  Unfortunately The Woman in Black is the next entry in this extensive lineage of uninspired films.

The movie stars Daniel Radcliffe as a windowed father struggling to make ends meet, who is forced to a small town to settle the affairs for an estate that has a deep dark secret that grips the youths of the town.  The set up is perfect to weave a story that will include: a vengeful female ghost, mirrors and windows, photos, scary dolls, and you guessed it…creepy kids. 

The issue here is that there is not enough in this film to illicit a reaction - neither like nor hate.  The credits roll, bad things happen, and then the movie fades to black.  Anyone who has seen a horror movies in the last five years will undoubtedly get the feeling of been there and done that.  The real question is whether or not this matters, as at the end of the day, viewers are looking for goose bumps, spine chills, and an excuse to sit closer to the person with you on the couch.  The Woman in Black provides enough of those moments, just not in a way that is either unique or memorable.

A good number of people who see this film will do so to see how Daniel Radcliffe fares in a role other than Harry Potter.  I’ve seen Radcliffe on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and know that he is a talented performer.  However, I spent half the movie thinking that I am watching Harry Potter rocking Luke Perry’s sideburns as he stumbles through a series of bad decisions while in a cursed house.  In my estimation it will probably take a while for him to shake the baggage that comes with playing a near iconic character over the course of eight films.

As for the rest of the cast, I had no idea who anyone was beyond Ciaran Hinds as Mr. Daily, who doesn’t do anything particularly great in this film other than serve as a vehicle to aid Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps as he spirals into a morass of paranormal negativity.  The kids in the cast are sufficiently creepy but that is probably more due to the fine folks in the makeup department than any actual acting.  In this film, the supporting cast is truly relegated to the background as the suspense and success of the movie rests on the shoulders of Radcliffe.

I cannot really recommend this movie.  There are other films out there for you to see that play in the same genre and utilize similar suspense mechanisms to tell a story.  If it’s on television on a rainy Saturday night then I guess it is worth a watch, but anything more than happenstance is probably wasted effort.  If it is more Daniel Radcliffe (or Harry Potter) that you crave, then be on the lookout for Kill Your Darlings - a film in which he is cast to play Allen Ginsberg (which is no easy task).

Standout Performance: Janet McTeer as Mrs. Daily does a decent job of advancing the storyline by legitimately displaying the anguish of a parent who has lost her child.


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