Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Woman in Black

The horror genre is a suffering one. In the past years, just about every genre that I love seems to have made big leaps in terms of plot devices and story telling from comic book movies to westerns. Campy flicks with cheesy dialoge have turned into action packed dramas with thought provoking questions while fun action driven movies have turned into gritty period pieces. Horror is one of the unfortunate groups that has seemed to have taken a few steps back in recent years. Lately it seems as though the only things studios find scary are jump scares and gore porn. Every now and then, we get a really good horror flick, one that treats its audience with respect and not only causes them to jump in their seats, but also to feel disturbed in the time following. The Woman in Black is such a flick. Based on the novel of the same name, this movie is a throwback to the old school ghost stories, the kind that we would tell around a camp fire. The story centers around a young lawyer who is assigned the task of travelling out to a town in the country to settle a client's affairs right after her death. Upon arriving in town, Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliffe), finds that the inhabitants are scared out of their wits due to the unsettling presence of a spectre of a woman dressed entirely in black. Every time this ghost is seen, a child dies in a freak accident sometime later. While sorting through his client's papers, Kipps deduces that the ghost is that of a woman who was scorned in life and has returned to exact her vengeance from beyond the grave. This is without a doubt one of the best ghost movies I have seen in recent years, making me jump in my seat multiple times and even causing one patron to leave the theater altogether saying (and I quote) "This is just too damn scary". The best part of the movie is this 10-15 minute segment where Kipps is constantly walking around this haunted house trying to find the source of different noises and disturbances, and not liking what he finds. Everything from spontaneously rocking rocking chairs to flickering lights to mysterious footsteps to musical toys going off all by themselves is included in this scene. Sure, it's cliche but it's a cliche that never gets old and will continue to scare audiences for years to come. The atmosphere of this movie is great and you really get this unsettling feeling throughout. From the very first scene where we see three little girls jump out of a window to their death, we get this very unnerving feeling throughout the rest of the movie. To be honest, I'm a little surprised that this movie didn't get an R rating, being that the majority of the deaths in the movie are children.

And now let's talk about the thing that should have audiences talking because it was so well done: The Woman in Black herself. The best part about ghost stories like these is the idea that the fear comes from what we don't see. Or rather, when we see it, it's a lot more simple than we expect, thus adding to the fear. Let me explain. In Sixth Sense, the ghosts did not look like typical ghosts, they looked like people with dark circles under their eyes. If you saw them on the street, you wouldn't think that they were a ghost, you would think that they just hadn't slept in a few days. And then when we learned that they were ghosts, it made it that much more freaky thinking that anybody could be a ghost in this character's mind. Same basic principle is applied here. The  first few times Kipps sees the woman, he isn't even aware that she is a ghost, he thinks she is just some random woman. However, when he tells the other people that he saw her, their reaction is more than enough to add to the suspense and tension. There are a number of moments when she appears in the background and you just want to yell out "SHE'S RIGHT THERE!!!" The icing on the cake is that you never get a good look at her face. With the exception of about three times in the movie, you always see her from a distance, and her face is always covered by a veil, making her face difficult to make out. Even the moments where you do see her up close, it is only for a few brief moments. It's a small detail but I think it is one that speaks volumes about the filmmakers' abilities and understanding of horror and ghost stories.

The other thing I would like to address is the main star, Daniel Radcliffe. A lot of people have questioned whether or not he will have much of a career after the Harry Potter franchise wrapped up. This was going to be the movie that answered that question for all of us. And to be honest with you, I think he will. We have all seen him grow as both a person and as an actor over the course of the Harry Potter movies and I think he showed some real acting chops in this flick.

Final Grade: A-

There is one more thing I would like to talk about, but before I continue, please excuse this short interruption.


Sorry, but a friend of mine read my Sherlock Holmes review and didn't heed my spoiler warning and got mad at me. At first, I argued that I shouldn't be held responsible for somebody else's stupidity, but after talking to my lawyer, it turns out that I am, so now I am legally obligated to do that.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about a lot of the changes that were made to the story from the book. Being that I read the book, I was a little irked at first, but then I got over it and actually gave the filmmakers credit for taking some artistic license with the story. In the movie, Arthur is a widower whose wife died in childbirth. The movie ends with both Arthur and his son being killed because of the woman's malice towards Kipps (she only meant to kill the son as a way of getting to Kipps, but he sacrificed himself so she wouldn't have him, it's a long story). Afterwards, they find themselves reunited with Kipps' wife in the afterlife.

Now onto the book ending. In the book, Arthur has a young wife (who is not dead) and son who he cares about very much. Unfortunately, their ending is much more tragic than the movie. Arthur concludes his business at the house and returns home thinking his affair with the ghost is done with. However, a few months later, the family is enjoying a day at a carnival when Arthur sees the woman standing in the distance while his wife and son are riding a pony and trap. The ghost steps out in front of the carriage causing the horse to freak out and crash, killing the son and fatally wounding the mother, who dies a few months later. The Woman in Black has now exacted her vengeance on Kipps for trying to meddle in her business. Arthur is now left alone haunted by the fact that the Woman in Black has given him one of the biggest middle fingers in literary history. That'll teach you to screw with the supernatural.

Needless to say, there is a huge chunk of the plot that I am leaving out here. Just because it's a spoilers section doesn't mean that I have to tell you everything. The reason for the hauntings is actually kind of sad and while you are scared of the ghost, their is still part of you that feels for her. There is another part of the story that they changed that I have decided to divulge to you here. In the book, it is just the woman  haunting Kipps. In the movie, he is disturbed by visions of the woman, the woman's son (again, long story) as well as all of the children that she has claimed.

Now what I am about to tell you may surprise you, especially if you read the book. I actually thought that the changes they made were improvements on the story. For one thing, having Kipps' wife dead already and the affect that it has had on him adds to the tragedy of the character and explains a lot of the actions that he takes. Also showing images of the children is very chilling as well, especially when there is a scene where you see them all standing in a group almost as if the ghost considers them trophies to be collected.

I'm going to assume that my friend who got me in this mess hasn't read this far, so now I have something to say. Are you shittin me man? I told him there was going to be spoilers and yet he still got angry at me. And for gosh sakes I spoiled something that happened five minutes into the movie! It's not like I gave away some big twist or anything! Keep in mind, this was also the same guy that told me I absolutely HAD to see Rise of the Apes (I know the title is different, but fuck it, I don't care). There is something else that he has done that furthers my anger, I almost feel like bringing it up isn't fair. Fuck it, he didn't heed my warning, so what the hell. This guy reads Twilight, willingly I might add. Now look, I said that Twilight was one of those fads that girls liked and guys liked to make fun of. And he defended it when he read my analysis on that shit storm. Now look, I understand that this is all opinion based, but I don't care, I'm the one with the balls to write my opinions and I'm the one who people keep asking about this kind of thing and take my advice into account. Does that make my opinion more valid? Yup. Screw you David. Oh wait... Should I have not mentioned his name on here? Oh boo hoo. If you're reading this and you know David,  go bother him about it. And if you don't know the David I'm talking about, go find someone named David, and just bug him, and let him know that the Movie Prick hates his guts. Yeah, I said it. David, assuming your stupid ass didn't heed my warning (again) and is reading this, I think you should have the following message: Eat shit!

Yours Truly,

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