Movie Review: The Woman in Black

There’s nuffin’ oy fancy more than a ole English ‘orror movie ta add a lil’ frill to me evnin. Wot wif aw the bloody screams and frioght and such. Oy loike me ‘orror movies full of atmospheah and dahk undatones, oy do. Thra in ‘arry Potter as a full grown bloke, and yuvv sold me a movie stub, alrioght alrioght.  [I apologize to all British people for doing that]

I’ve been a horror fan my whole life, dating back to when my parents would take me to Blockbuster and let me rent whatever B-movie 90s garbage I felt like getting when I was eight-years-old.  I don’t think it did anything to damage me psychologicaQUIT LOOKING AT ME in the long run and I’ve become a pretty well-adjusted person [stares blankly at a spider web for 14 minutes without blinking].  As much as I used to like horror movies with obscene amounts of gore and slashing in my youth, I’ve come to appreciate modern horror films mainly when they supply a hefty dose of one thing: atmosphere.  There haven’t really been a whole lot of great horror films released in the last 10-15 years or so (some, but not many), and the ones I’ve really liked almost always feature atmosphere as the film’s strong point.  Atmosphere that contributes to building tension.  And in that regard, The Woman in Black gets an A for effort.

I was a fan of everything going on in this film, in theory.  It had the best intentions, but maybe it just tried a little too hard.  The story is basically about a lawyer who is financially down on his luck, so he has to travel to an abandoned haunted house in the middle of a marsh/wetlands/bog/something and do some legal paperwork in order to get it sold.  I know I shouldn’t over think it, but it’s logic flaws like questioning why he didn’t just pick up the paperwork from the haunted house and take it back to his hotel room to work on instead of spending the night there, that sort of bug me.  There are other flawed things like the explanation/motivation for the ghost to do evil acts.  “If anyone sees the ghost, no matter who, and no matter where, and no matter for how long, terrible things start to happen!”  That is the laziest shit I’ve ever heard.  Also, without really spoiling it, the reasoning behind the ghost being evil in the first place is kind of lazy, and the ‘woman in black’ is just kind of a huge bitch who’s ruining other people’s lives for no apparent reason other than she’s “crazy and evil”…

There’s a lot of fluff around the ghost story, and it didn’t all seem necessary.  A lot of over-explanation and side characters that don’t deserve development.  If they aren’t going to fully develop these characters, then don’t waste our time doing a half-assed job.  It was a pretty short movie at around 90 minutes, but I felt like they could have chopped off 10 minutes of it.  The story is good, but just barely isn’t portrayed correctly.  There are too many nonsensical elements in the story to take it as serious as they wanted it.  At least they provided an ending where I didn’t necessarily feel cheated.  90% of modern horror films end ambiguously on a “The End (QUESTION  MARK, NUDGE NUDGE WINK WINK)” kind of moment that makes you feel like an ending wasn’t actually ever written into the script.  Woman in Black at least had the dignity to provide a sense of closure to the main character.

But where the movie really succeeds is in the scare factor.  I don’t easily scare, and I rarely fall victim to jump scares, but there was some pretty haunting imagery in this film.  And it was well done and well placed.  And not overdone.  You never see too much, and aside from literally the last 2 seconds of the film, they rarely take it over the line into cheesy territory (maybe I would have made the ghost sound less like a Ringwraith).  There was a scene near the end that legitimately raised the hair on my legs.  Kudos.  It provided about the perfect amount of chills that I would expect for a PG-13 horror film.  It wasn’t quite as clever as 1408, and wasn’t as tense as The Descent, but for a modern horror film it’s not bad.  And there’s no contorting people!  I fucking hate contorting people in horror movies.  It’s not scary anymore!  Stop doing it!  It’s played out.  The next ghost that intentionally breaks their bones as a scare tactic is getting a proton stream shot right up their ass…  I guess The Woman in Black suffered from a couple “Japanese screams”.  You know what those are, when there’s like a two second nonsensical shot of some ghost screaming, then they disappear, basically becoming a cheap non-threat.  At least Woman in Black did them slightly better than usual, but they were still there.  Can’t we, as a film community, stop using the Japanese horror film fad of the 2000’s as a source of inspiration anymore?  The Ring was *alright*, and so was The Grudge, but after that it was all overrated nonsense.  This bullshit should have ended with the awful American remake of Pulse.  I could go the rest of my life without ever again seeing people being haunted by moving strands of long, black hair.

Focus, Scott, focus!  Daniel Radcliffe was a pretty good actor in this, but most of the time he is barely even acting.  Majority of the movie is him just walking around the haunted house looking calm and/or scared.  Most of the time I wasn’t even looking at him at all.  I spent a lot of the film looking at the background over his shoulder.  This was the kind of movie where most of the scares happened in the background of shots, or at a distance.  That’s how I like it actually.  That gets in my head more.

As a ghost movie, The Woman in Black is pretty good.  As a well-rounded movie as a whole, The Woman in Black is just OK.  It’s scary enough, it definitely has the retro 60s/70s vibe I like in a ghost story, and it will get the job done in the freak out department.  I could see this film boring some people, though.  It’s not as non-stop terrifying as some people would like, and there are some non-ghost lulls in places.  Could be better, could be worse.  I don’t regret seeing it in theaters, but I don’t know if I ever plan on watching it again.

6.5 out of 10

4 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Woman in Black

  1. Olivia says:

    Well, I bought this book to read before the semester started, but unfortunately I haven’t had time yet to read it. I won’t see the movie without reading the book, but this review has motivated me to get reading so I can see the movie already! I’ve hear they are both pretty bone-chilling!

    Thanks for the great review!

    • scottodactyl says:

      Yeah if you like ghost stuff, I don’t think many modern horror movies are going to get much better than what’s offered in Woman in Black. Start speed reading before it leaves theaters!

    • scottodactyl says:

      Based on what’s playing today at the Regal Cinema by my house, I’d recommend seeing these movies in this order:

      1. The Artist
      2. The Descendants
      3. Chronicle
      4. The Grey
      5. Hugo 3D
      6. The Woman in Black
      7. Haywire

      The rest of the stuff at the theater I haven’t seen, and don’t plan on seeing. Hope that helps!

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