The Woman in Black

Horror is a tough genre to do well. It’s mired in cliché and cheese. Either it’s too gory, too dumb, or not scary. Modern horror films have relied too much on startling the audience instead of earning scares. An ever increasing reliance on CGI have made horror films tame. What’s scary about an obviously fake computer generated image? Nothing.

The Woman in Black is by no means a movie that shakes up the genre. It stays firmly planted in all the usual trappings of a standard haunted house film. What this film does well, however, is it generally avoids all the modern pitfalls like startles, stupidity, and CGI.

The movie is actually a throwback to a bygone era. It eschews gore and relies on chills. It tries to blanket the audience in atmosphere, and uses its setting to its advantage, where the house itself is just as scary as the ghost that inhabits it. It takes place in Victorian England, and, let’s face it, all the best ghost stories take place in that era.

Daniel Radcliffe plays a depressed lawyer who hasn’t moved on after the death of his wife several years ago. He gets sent to settle the estate of some dead person, and has to spend a couple of nights in the shittiest house Victorian England has seen in a long time. The house is, of course, haunted. It’s haunted by a woman who hanged herself on the estate, the titular Woman in Black.

The film does something most modern horror films can’t be bothered to do these days: it builds atmosphere. It does not start out trying to startle the pants off you. It lets Radcliffe explore the creepy house, treading slowly through darkened hallways, showing a couple of minor disturbing images, and trying to instill a genuine sense of dread in the audience. That’s how you make a horror film work. In order for the audience to get truly scared, they need to be put in the right mindset first.

The scares come in the robust second act. Radcliffe spends the night in the house, and the Woman in Black begins to terrorize him. At first, it’s stuff to get him paranoid, like a distant doorway opening silently on its own. As the night drags on, the ghost begins to scare him with more obvious stuff like a rocking chair moving on its own. The tension builds, and Radcliffe is subjected to ever greater terrors. The second act does go over-the-top, but at least the movie did a good job building to that moment.

The final act of the film isn’t too scary, but it had some creepy moments. The ending is kind of a WTF letdown and uses some really bad CGI. But, as far as I can tell, this was only one of two times CGI was used in the entire movie, so it was forgivable.

The Woman in Black is a pretty good horror movie. They built atmosphere, they tried to unsettle the audience with subtlety before leading into the bigger scares, and they relied on practical effects. Radcliffe’s acting was fine, but most of the supporting cast was cheesy. It’s OK, it’s not like you go to horror films for the fantastic performances.

While this film doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, it was a refreshing throwback to a time when movies tried to be scary and not just startle people for 90 minutes. It probably won’t be remembered as a classic, but it is a solid entry into the canon. I’d say, for a horror film, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Verdict: Good


3 Responses to “The Woman in Black”

  1. November 9, 2017 at 4:41 am

    Ahh yes! We agree with this one! I did enjoy it – okay, it’s not high-falutin’ horror but Radcliffe sells it brilliantly, and the production design (and sound design) on this film is superb. Good call!

  2. 3 Paragraph Film Reviews
    December 15, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Agree with everything above! Caught this in the cinema and almost shat myself on multiple occasions. It was rated a 12A in the UK (people under 12 can see it with an adult) and I couldn’t believe it. Proper old-school hammer-horror chills and tension. Still remember the best jumps to this day – it earns the right to do ‘cheap’ jumps.

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November 2017
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