February 7, 2012

Chilly and Cheesy: The Woman in Black Falls Short

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When one hears that Daniel Radcliffe is in a new movie, the first thing that comes to mind is, “But I thought there were no more Harry Potter movies.” Alas, the Daniel Radcliffe film that’s now in theaters is not Harry Potter Eight, but The Woman in Black: a horror movie set in 19th century England.

Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a financially troubled lawyer and widower struggling to raise a son. In order to keep his job, Kipps is sent to sell the Eel Marsh estate, your standard creepy haunted house located on a small island in the middle of a marsh. Though Kipps is cheery and helpful, he is rebuffed by the townspeople who clearly want him nowhere near them or Eel Marsh.

Eventually, Kipps pays a townsperson to take him to the creaky mansion so he can start going through all the paperwork and casually see some ghosts. Kipps thinks he spots a woman, dressed in black, on the grounds of the house, but when he walks outside no one is there. When Kipps returns to town, he witnesses a series of horrible, violent incidents in which children die. Finally someone explains the legend to a bewildered Kipps: when someone spots the woman in black, who is theoretically the ghost of a crazy woman whose son was taken away from her and then drowned in the marsh, a child in town dies. We later learn that her ghost is forcing the children to commit suicide. Though necessary to some extent for the plot, the children killing themselves become a tad gratuitous.

The first portion of the film feels less like a horror movie and more like a creepier Agatha Christie story along the lines of And Then There Were None (one of her darker novels one should not read alone at night). In fact there is a passing reference made to Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Until the supernatural elements take over, the audience wonders why the opening scene is of three little girls committing suicide rather than clutching the edge of their seats from fear.

Once the story begins to focus on the Eel Marsh Estate, The Woman in Black is admittedly terrifying. Because Kipps is still grieving the loss of his wife who died in childbirth, it is unclear whether or not he imagines the woman. The idea of kids dying in fires, drowning at the beach and falling out of buildings is just so utterly horrifying and sad, that one can easily be swept up into the emotional drama. The music, as well as the eerie set design and bleak color scheme, put the audience on edge. There is plenty of thick English fog to create the atmosphere of suspense. The first 40 minutes are a nod to old-fashioned cinema in which filmmakers did not rely on CGI or silly gimmicks.

But after the first half, the story crosses over from a Haunting-esque psychological thriller to cheesy horror movie one can almost laugh at. Once it becomes clear that the woman is not in Daniel Radcliffe’s imagination, she is not scary anymore. The mystery is taken away too soon and makes the rest of the plot elements just kind of stupid. For example, there is a scene in which Daniel Radcliffe goes swimming in the marsh to search for the corpse of a little boy. During that scene, Lucas Colbert ’15 loudly uttered several times, “Really?” To go along with this silly Act II, the audience is left with an unsatisfying ending in which both Kipps and his son die and happily reunite with Kipps’ widow, not symbolically at all, dressed in white.

Radcliffe’s acting is superb. However, by no fault of his own, he is unconvincing as a late 20-something lawyer with a four-year-old child. Again, this has nothing to do with his performance, but everything to do with the fact that Daniel Radcliffe has been playing a teenager since 2001. The set design and costumes make it easy to envision him as someone other than Harry Potter, but to be perfectly honest, the director of The Woman in Black would have done well to consult the special effects team that did the make-up for the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II to make Radcliffe believable as a parent.

The Woman in Black is worth seeing, but not in theaters. Do not waste your money (believe me DanRad does not need it). It is worth seeing only if you are at home, eating ice-cream, it happens to be on television and for some reason USA does not have a Law and Order marathon going on.

Original Author: Julia Moser