15 February 2012


Is anyone else slightly surprised that Daniel Radcliffe did this right after Harry Potter? It's considerably darker than even the darkest of those films, but that whole series was soaked with Hammer-grade atmospheric horror, and certain scenes in The Woman In Black aren't a million miles removed from the magical menace that infused those school years. However, I do think that he shows more confidence by not striking out and doing something completely different, and running the risk of protesting too much.

Set at the turn of the century, the film stars Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer and single father who is struggling to keep his job since the untimely death of his wife, during childbirth. Struggling to support their young son, Arthur agrees to settle the affairs of the late Alice Drablow, and travels to a small town in North East England in the hopes of selling her property, Eel Marsh House. He finds the town gripped by terror, as people's children keep dying in violent or unnatural circumstances, shepherded into death by the vengeful presence of a ghostly woman, veiled in black.

Modern ghost stories are comparatively rare, it seems. Films like Paranormal Activity and Insidious have misappropriated the popular tropes of movies about ghosts, and reimagined them as the work of demons and monsters. The principal difference between those films and The Woman In Black, aside from the ghost-demon thing, is that each of those films were released with a 15 certificate. This one is certified 12A, and was cut down from a 15, by request of the distributor. Having now seen the film, I submit that The Woman In Black is why we have those "over-18" adults-only screenings.

Almost a decade after its first implementation, there are still filmgoers who don't get that the 12A certificate automatically makes a movie suitable for those under the age of 12, but this wasn't what bugged me about this film. It's the way in which the film has been opened up to kids aged between 12 and 15 to see the film without parental supervision, and considering how much time the industry spends pandering to this exact audience, their cinema etiquette is fucking appalling. The Woman In Black is about as suitable for talky, texty, half-terming tweenaged idiotholes, as it is for those sneery gorehounds who have dismissed the old-fashioned atmosphere of the piece as quaint or cheap.

What the film should represent, were it not for that dratted 12A certificate, is a full-blooded return to Hammer. The combination of James Watkin gleefully directing Jane Goldman's spooky, jolting script serves to properly air out the niche that the studio used to occupy. It provides a romping ghost-train ride of a horror film, in the vein of Insidious and its ilk, while still keeping up the historical British perspective, and it's precisely the kind of thing the studio needed after their slow start with derivative American-set thrillers like Let Me In or The Resident. It doesn't quite have Wake Wood's teeth, but let's hope the commercial success of this as a 12A film doesn't lead to all of their future projects trying to capture the same irritating audience.

Don't get me wrong- I've said before and will say again that I love to see horror movies that capture a proper atmosphere of terror, and I definitely don't mind it when people jump out of their seats, or even when they give into nervous giggles. Fun, jumpy horror films are precisely my kind of horror film, provided the jump scares are actually related to the plot, and not, say, Cat Scares. I especially loved the ten minute passage of this film, in which Arthur stays in Eel Marsh House overnight, that had the whole cinema on tenterhooks. The times between the screams were quieter than any other part of the movie- for once, none of the kids were talking about it in between.

Radcliffe might not entirely convince as a bereaved single father, but he holds his own in what is patently not an actor's film. It's a simple story, which is not to say that it's a slim story. In certain parts, like that ten minute sequence I mentioned above, those who are following the story might get a little frustrated by the repetition of "Arthur goes upstairs, Arthur goes downstairs" that drives the narrative, but everybody's motivations are clear throughout. Goldman pays due notice to the usual questions, like "Why wouldn't he just leave?" and "Why is the ghost so pissed off?", which allowed me to properly soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the film, audience notwithstanding.

Yes, you should see The Woman In Black, especially if you like the crowd-pleasing scares provided by modern horror and/or the old-school scares of Hammer's older output. This is very definitely a step in the right direction, and hugely enjoyable if seen with the right audience. Be smart about this- wait until next week, when half term is over and those who aren't mature enough to watch the film without ruining it for everyone else are back in school. It's not that bad behaviour in cinema is solely the province of teenagers, but the mistaken certification of this film has made the problem a whole lot worse, especially in a film where the intense atmosphere is essential to fully enjoying the experience.

The Woman In Black is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Woman In Black, why not share your comments below? Also, I'm interested to hear from Hammer fans who have been charting the resurgence- did you enjoy this as much as Hammer's other output?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


midgiem00 said...

I saw this film in the company of the worst audience i've ever had the misfortune to spend time in a darkened room with. 12a certificate for this film is ridiculous.

Mark said...

Funny that you should say that- I've written on this topic in more depth here... http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/1247430/are_young_cinema_audiences_ruining_the_woman_in_black.html