The knitting of gothic trappings with j-horror beats is nothing new (Korea did it with A Tale of Two Sisters, and the U.S. followed with An American Haunting… among many), but it's still original enough to stand out in today's array of found footage flicks and sexy werewolf romantic thrillers. There isn't a single second of shaky-cam, nor do any ridiculously ripped shape-shifters howl at the moon in The Woman In Black. It is all about the apparitions.
I love a classic ghost story, and I've seen almost every one that's come down the pike. If the there's a downside, it's that it's nearly impossible to surprise me. However, I can still be pleased. The Woman in Black did neither of either.
Well, I guess that's a bit harsh. I did enjoy moments. But before I share those, let's look at The Woman in Black's pedigree: Hammer Films returned to the business of making cinema scary with its remake of Let the Right One In (as Let Me In)… which didn't fare too well domestically, and was followed up with two direct-to-DVD offerings and an online original. Now there is The Woman in Black, its widest release and first old-period piece, starring Harry Potter himself, Danielle Radcliffe, as the hapless haunted one.
Arthur Kipps is a London-based lawyer, a widowed father raising his precocious young son as best he can. When he is called out on business to the coastal town of Crythin Gifford to handle the affairs of Alice Drablow (Alisa Khazanova), recently deceased under unpleasant circumstances, he soon realizes that it will take more than just a little paperwork to close the case on this tragedy. But first, he has to find lodging after his place falls through. Enter longtime locals Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds) and his wife (Janet McTeer), eager to offer up their creepy mansion and their tales of tangling with the mysterious "woman in black" who, possibly, killed their young son and many other children in the village. Remember who has a young son back in London? Yep…
So, yeah. Not many surprises. (As evidenced by the paying customer a few seats down from me in the theater, snoring.) The presentation of these non-surprises, however, is not altogether bad. There are some truly creepy moments of tension saturated with suspense when Arthur is trapped in the phantom's favorite room — an attic full of the world's ugliest porcelain dolls and a bizarre array of taxidermy and automotans — but sadly, those go-to gotchas are punctuated by patently obvious sound design and an invasive score that would have even The Blue Man Group saying, "Uh, guys… that's over the top."
The Woman In Black is not a bad deal for those who are easily scared or/and haven't seen many ghost movies. It's well acted, nicely photographed, the story makes sense, and the conclusion will be satisfactory to most.
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