The Woman in Black (CBS Films, PG-13)

film woman-in-black_smIt really felt very middle of the road; ghosts spend most of their time jumping out and saying “boo.” 

 

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I love horror movies, but stories of ghosts and haunted houses have never been my favorite subgenres. I think part of the problem is that there are no set rules for ghosts. As a kid (and, let’s be honest, as an adult) I was (am) in love with the classic Universal monsters, and I remember delving deep into the mythology surrounding werewolves and vampires. These monsters have rules. A man who is bitten by a werewolf and lives will become a werewolf himself. Full moon, silver bullets—got it. Vampires suck blood and can be hurt by sunlight, crosses, and sometimes garlic. Zombies have rules. Most monsters have rules. Ghosts are kind of impossible to categorize. The only thing they can definitely do is jump out and say “boo.” How much control they have over the real world is different depending on the story. If you think this is a lot of setup, I believe that it is important for me to share my viewpoint on the subgenre as a whole, especially when The Woman in Black is such a straightforward generic entry in said subgenre.

Daniel Radcliffe plays a widower with a young son. Radcliffe looks far too young for that, but I guess he got married as a teenager. It was a different time. Anyway, he plays a lawyer sent to a small town in the country to look into selling a scary old house. We get all the usual tropes. Townspeople look at him with fear and suspicion. No one is willing to drive him up to the old, dark house. They try to get him to turn around and go home, but he is stubbornly committed. It turns out the town is being terrorized by the ghoulish woman in black. This ghost, in addition to being able to jump out and say “boo,” can also convince children to kill themselves, which is admittedly pretty fucked up. This is told to the Radcliffe character late in the film, and I guess is meant to be a reveal, even though everyone in the audience learned this from the very first scene, which is before the opening credits. Straightforward story. What do you do with it?

Horror movies in general live or die based on their atmosphere. In a haunted house movie, most of this comes down to the actual house itself. One of my favorite recent ghost stories was Session 9, which was filmed in an old abandoned insane asylum. The place oozes creepy atmosphere, to the point where the filmmakers would have needed to work pretty hard to not make a scary movie. The house in Woman in Black? Eh, it’s aight. It really felt very middle of the road, as did the whole movie. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but ghosts spend most of their time jumping out and saying “boo.” This allows for an extreme number of cheap jump scares. I was growing weary every time Radcliffe caught a brief glimpse of a ghost, accompanied by a loud musical sting, and then looked again to see nothing. It’s tired. Just because a sudden loud noise makes me jump doesn’t mean there was any skill involved.

We’re back to where we started. I don’t like ghost movies that much, so I demand a higher level of quality. Some people love these movies and can’t get enough of them. For them, The Woman in Black is perfectly adequate, and probably better than a lot of what the genre has to offer. I get it. I like slasher movies, which are even more formulaic, and less reputable. I’m forgiving of it because even if they don’t scare me, I can still have fun with them. Other people feel that way about haunted houses. There are some good moments in The Woman in Black (one involving a locked door was especially fun) and the gothic style certainly has its merits. It’s just not for me. | Sean Lass

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