Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Woman in Black Review

Woman in Black Feb 3

Rating: 3/5

First of all, shout outs to Daniel Radcliffe for successfully growing up!  He is as far from Harry Potter in The Woman in Black as it gets except for dark and interesting interiors and “otherworldly” matters he investigates. But, wow – he’s a man, with a child and a job and a mature life!  Well, maybe it’s the same, but he is different. He quite handsome with a sense of gravitas we haven’t seen before and an ability to enliven long silent sequences. Not once do we doubt his ability to pull it off.

It’s a different kettle of fish as Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer sent to a gloomy village in the outer reaches of civilization to close the sale of a stately mansion.  His job depends on making that trip because he is apparently this close to being fired. The “firm” has become impatient of his grieving for his wife.  He has a small son to raise and a nanny to pay so off he goes.  But does he have the strength of mind to endure what lies ahead?

At the village, he’s met by hostile, angry residents demanding that he leave immediately, a greeting that is repeated at every turn.  Why?  The villagers have had more than their share of child deaths which may have something to do with the mansion he’s selling.  They suffer from crippling superstition that now finds its locus in Kipps.

Kipps does find allies in the town’s wealthiest family Mr. and Mrs. Daily (Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer) who he discovers also lost their child. The Dailys are educated and enlightened and free of the villagers’ violent fears but one night at dinner, Mrs. Daily goes into a trance in which her dead son seems to be screaming for help.

Kipps heads out to the mansion to find documents for the sale.  Daily warns him not to run after shadows which is precisely what he does.  His curiosity nearly does him in.  He’s aware of howling banshees, poltergeists and the recurring ghost of a woman in black and a ghostly gathering of dead children.

The art direction is haute Goth Victorian / Hammer Horror, in the detail and atmosphere of the village, the countryside riding out to the seaside mansion, and the mansion itself, a masterpiece of dusty, moneyed glory worn down by pain and sadness. Dark black, blue and green paint, flowing cobweb-covered lace, tassled velvet and candlelight and an array of scary looking toys and stuffed animals make this the ideal haunted mansion of movie lore with roots in the earliest days of Hollywood.

The mansion is set in the midst of vast stretch of marshland and sinking sand and twice daily is completely isolated by rising tides. This is top notch atmospheric folderol; the story never quite lives up to the world created for it but atmosphere is everything, bigger than the story itself. As a horror film it is also old fashioned, less horrific than we know in 2012 and yet strangely captivating.

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