“The Woman in Black” Film Review

Because, you know, Daniel Radcliffe is the only person in this movie

In his latest film, The Woman in Black, Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a widowed father who is hired to settle the estate of a woman who lived on a marsh outside a remote English town. When he arrives there, he finds none of the villagers to be that welcoming. They believe that the woman – and the house – is cursed. People have apparently seen her ghost around, and every time that happens, horrible incidents strike the children of the town. Arthur is repeatedly ostracized for visiting and, as a result, despite warnings not to, starts to spend more and more of his time at the house.

To sum up, Daniel Radcliffe plays a wimpy Van Helsing in the shoddiest Dracula “remake” to date.

But maybe, like me, you won’t see that at first. Perhaps, you’ll notice how badly the film wants to make a good impression on the audience in its first few moments. After a Prologue of sorts, the film opens up with Radcliffe getting ready to leave 1890’s London on his way to the remote town. It doesn’t take much to notice that he’s been crying; his red, puffy eyes tell that much. After a few minutes, it then introduces us to Arthur’s four-year-old son, Joseph, who gladly hands his father his latest work of art; a series of pictures, counting down the days until he can see his dad again. The two discuss the pictures, noting the one for that particular day has him looking sad, standing next to Joseph, while Mommy is looking down on them from high up in the heavens. The dialogue then goes on to confirm that Arthur’s wife is dead – but the subtlety of the scene left me hopeful that the rest of the movie would be like that.

I just wish it ended up being that intelligent.

The Woman in Black‘s biggest problem by far is that it takes itself way too seriously. From the overly-dramatic camera movements through the dank hallways of the house, to the sad repeated attempts at pop-out horror, and the questionable quality of some of the backgrounds and CGI effects, I foolishly made myself start to believe that this movie was just having fun with itself. Some of the attempts by minor characters to pull off “screams of terror” end up being hilarious instead of terrifying. The stupidity of Radcliffe’s Arthur as he keeps going back to the house even though pretty much everything – even the movie itself – is telling him not to is too incredulous to be believed.

However, I was dead wrong. Those side-splittingly funny screams are just the result of bad acting, and the predictable way that the movie gears up to scare the audience (almost to the point that it should just have the words “SOMETHING SCARY IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN” on screen to save time) is just the movie falling into typical horror cliches, where scare moments are expected instead of genuinely frightening.

And you know, I thought filmmakers collectively decided to at least try to make their color schemes less noticeable after the red color-blast that was The Sixth Sense. But these guys must have missed that meeting. After the first act of the film, there is almost literally a trace of yellow in every shot until the end. You might think this is nitpicking, but when such a bright color is in every scene for a good majority of the movie, you start to notice it, and notice it bad. There are grassy fields coated in yellow, artificial yellowy sun-filled forest backgrounds for the cemetery, candles that give off a yellow glow, yellow designs appearing on the wallpaper, and even supposed “natural light” that has tinges of yellow. Even the traditionally gray and monochromatic scenes that seem to accompany every English film these days have traces of it. It’s inescapable. The yellow is everywhere, and once you notice it you can’t stop.

It also really bothers me how much this movie is clearly being exploited as a star vehicle for Daniel Radcliffe. It’s the same formula that’s used with other popular fledgling-adult actors like Zac Effron (plop them in an otherwise bland movie for the star power and then make it all about that actor for the fangirls), except here it’s being treated as a serious movie. One that “cares” about what’s going on and not who’s in it. It can’t really fool anyone though, and this is especially evident in just how much time Radcliffe spends this movie by himself or acting alone. I feel like a drinking game could be made where you take a shot whenever he asks an innocuous question, only to go unanswered. No, even better! Get a friend, and try to see who can guzzle down a bottle of vodka the fastest during one of this movie’s (many) silent, action-less scenes, and stop when Radcliffe remembers he can speak again. I have a feeling you’d have a better time watching the end of the movie in a drunken stupor than I did sober.

There were definitely things to like about The Woman in Black; Radcliffe does a pretty decent job as the lead, even if there are dogs that have had more speaking lines than him. Some of the minor characters are interesting, even though the movie doesn’t really stop to establish them as it steamrolls through the plot. And, you know, I actually jumped once. It wasn’t a big jump or anything (especially since everyone around me was treating it like the scariest moment in any movie ever), but I’ll give credit where it’s due and say that it’s one of the very few times I’ve done that in any movie. However, none of these things really do enough to save the movie from its bigger problems. All they really do is prevent it from being the absolutely atrocious Dracula rip-off it probably would have been, were Radcliffe not in it, unfortunately.