A horror film set in classic tones, with a small English village holding tight to a dark secret, The Woman in Black is one of the best of the genre I have seen in recent years.
From the onset, when we see Daniel Radcliffe’s character holding the straight razor to his throat as he looks in the mirror and finishes shaving, the audience knows there is something definitely not right in Arthur Kipps’ life. Other clues are given to the audience in small tidbits.
Kipps closing his briefcase on papers that have ‘overdue’ stamped on them. Kipps talking to his boss before he takes the trip, and his boss reminding him this is his last chance - the firm doesn’t take charity cases.
Yet through all of these hints and clues, the audience is drawn to the sweet face of Kipps’ four year old son, Joseph (played by Misha Handley). There is a tight stressfulness to this conundrum, as we are taken into this stylized world, a by-gone era that doesn’t provide charity to single parents or their children, regardless of the need.
We feel the tension because as Kipps goes into the unknown, it is not known if he will be able to provide for his little boy. The story is further saddened with a haunting flashback of his wife’s death. The wife is seen through ghostly dreams and flashbacks and is played by Sophie Stuckey.
Kipps leaves for his trip, with the intent that his son and the nanny (Jessica Raine) will meet him at the train station in several days’ time. Joseph draws a child-like timeline of the days, which Kipps puts in his cloak and refers to from time to time (this is a clever tool for the audience---it denotes time as well as nostalgia and provides some tension to remind of their impending reunion).
Kipps’ assignment is rather vague. He has to put paperwork in order for one of his firm’s clients, the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow. He is to go to her manor house, the eerily named Eel Marsh House, and organize papers, simple enough. Not quite. Kipps seems to be low man on the totem pole at his firm, and that suggests that no one else wanted this assignment.
When he arrives, he encounters a hostile village (in true classic horror style) and they only want him to leave. He does manage to gain the sympathy in two people: the wife at the Inn in which he stays, and Daily (Ciaran Hinds), whom he befriends.
Daily helps him when none of the other villagers will, when they block the road and demand that Kipps leave, Daily manages to get passed them and take Kipps to Eel Marsh House. E even becomes a sort of taxi service for Kipps, as his offers to pick him up when the sea tides ebb.
The manor house is perhaps the creepiest haunted house ever. Normally in haunted house movies, I secretly want to live in the house if not just for the architectural value - the winding staircase or the foyer that lets stained glass light in. Not in this house. Never, ever would I want to even visit this house.
For one thing, the location is very, very dismal. No formal English gardens with carefully sculpted shrubbery here. This house is on an island in the midst of a muddy marsh. The sea tides comes in at certain times of the day and just sits there, making a mucky mess, and then recedes.
The only way in or out of the place is a lonely, fog covered road, and this is only assessable when the tide is low.
The interior of the house is also very dismal, matching the outside well. Antlers hang from the walls and ceiling, the nursery is filled with toys I would never let a child touch much less play with - those creepy wind-up toys that go off at always the wrong moments - the monkey with the cymbals, the porcelain faced clown that looks like he is in drag make-up. And don’t get me started on the monkey collection. The poor boy who had to play with these hideous things was indeed in dire straits.
Kipps quickly realizes that something is terribly wrong in this house, as if the villagers’ reaction wasn’t enough to clue him into the horror. He experiences paranormal activity on many levels, including sightings of this woman in black.
He soon finds out that she is the key to what the townspeople are afraid of, and he finds that his new friend Daily has a part in all that is happening due to the death of Daily’s own son and the grief he has therein.
Daily’s wife (Janet McTeer) also turns out to be a medium of sorts (if Daily would let her finish one sentence of her automatic writing). She is a vital part to the story and solving the mystery of Eel Marsh House, even though she only has like two scenes.
As the film heats up and the tension mounts, in the back of our mind is that Kipps’ son Joseph will be arriving soon on the train. As Kipps’ begins to realize what The Woman in Black wants and what the villagers are afraid of, he realizes his own son might be in danger and tries to take steps to advert tragedy.
I have to say here, hopefully without spoiler alerts, that I have read about the bogs of Ireland and how people who couldn’t afford a proper burial were sunk into them and now they are a phenomenon in natural mummification.
Though the film doesn’t delve into this, I believe that this has happened to Nathanial Drablow, and that really creeped me out, more so than seeing The Woman in Black in the mirrors or the yucky old house.
The ending of the film will shock and surprise. I won’t give anything away, but it is one of the best endings I have seen in a long, long time. The movie doesn’t wimp out. It gives, and it gives hard, but you don’t realize it for a few seconds of time. When you do realize what happened, you feel slapped in the face.
The Woman in Black is a film that looks incredible on Blu-ray and the format is perfect for capturing all the ghostly and creepy details of the film's production design.
It also comes with decent bonus material including - commentary with Director James Watkins and Screenwriter Jane Goldman, Inside The Perfect Thriller: Making Woman in Black Featurette, and No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps Featurette.
I highly recommend this film and as a comeback for the Hammer films, I applaud it in every way. From the directing to the acting to costume and scenery, this film is one creepy ride. It doesn’t pull any punches and delivers on all levels. Children die in this and they die badly, but it is not a gore fest.
It is done with style, in the classic horror vein of building tension, small effects such as a person seen in a mirror or in a window. The corner of your eye will definitely be exercised, and you will be talking about this movie long after the credits roll.
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