Who doesn’t love an English ghost story?
Director: James Watkins
Studio: Cross Creek Pictures, Hammer Productions (among others)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds
Tagline: What Did They See?; Do You Believe in Ghosts?
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: British, foreign film, ghost, haunting, curse, thriller, suspense
Scare score: A
Plot overview: Given one last chance to save his job, young lawyer, father, and widower Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is sent from London to a small coastal town in northeastern England to deal with the funeral process and final legal matters of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow. After a very cold welcome on behalf of various villagers, Kipps demands that he will stay in the town and handle all of the paperwork at the Drablow’s manor, the Eel Marsh House, located far out on a causeway and only accessible during low tide. Kipps soon begins to hear noises and see images throughout the dark and frightening Eel Marsh House, with the events culminating in his seeing the figure of the Woman in Black (Liz White) outside. Thus begins a strange and terrifying series of horrible deaths of the local children as well as the growing panic and craze of the townspeople who are clearly aware of the relation between Kipps’ arrival and business at the Eel Marsh House and the sudden deaths. Only Samuel Daily (Hinds) and his unstable wife are kind to the concerned Kipps, who learns more about the dark past of the Eel Marsh House and its residents as the hauntings of the Woman in Black become more violent and real. Kipps soon realizes he must right the wrongs of the Drablow family in order to prevent further further death of the children, including that of his own son Joseph (Misha Handley). But will his attempts be enough to rest the soul of the Woman in Black?
Wait. This movie was great. I’m sitting here after watching it admittedly creeped out and wondering why I haven’t heard tons of good reviews. So yes, Horror Snob loves gothic horror, period pieces, and ghost stories. This movie gave me everything I wanted and more, and indeed it was in many ways as much a drama with an excellent story line as much as it was a horror. Outside of the slasher realm, it’s so great to see a well thought out, chilling movie.
One has to admire the general filming of this movie. The scenes, costumes, effects, and sets are beautiful. I found myself just as interested in the grandeur of the Eel Marsh House and the sheer nature of the causeway through the marsh/ moor as I was with all of the characters as well as the ghosts themselves. The movie presents us with a wonderful yet oppressive montage of black, white, and grey. Everything in the film really falls into this colour scheme, so along with the dreary weather we know that we are in Edwardian England. That being said, the general production and presentation of the film is eerie and absolutely perfect for a ghost story.
My only complaint (if you could call it that) would probably be that Mr. Radcliffe is a bit too young for his role. I never thought he was the best actor, but he did do a pretty good job, which is important for the success of the film as he is in generally every scene. While I was not displeased with his performance, I still found it a little hard to believe his role and age, especially as he is paired throughout the film with older actors.
The plot is really excellent; what a story (!) based off of the 1983 novel of the same name by Susan Hill. The creepy tone of the film really complimented what was happening throughout. We are given a friendly amount of clues during the exposition, as well as a pleasant amount of thrills during the rising action. Might I say, the film does an awesome job with the “bang” scary moments, perfectly timed and placed to make the viewer jump on more than several occasions. I love that kind of horror, and furthermore it complimented the building suspense of the film, therefore satisfying us equally throughout the film’s entirety. I liked the backstory of Jennet Humfrye (the Woman in Black) being the true mother of the deceased Nathaniel, therefore cursing the Drablow’s and the whole village as her vengeful spirit returns to provoke the untimely demise of innocent children. OKAY, okay, so yes: the entire structure of this film’s plot relies on the direct opposite of one of my cardinal rules of horror however we have to let it fly as long as it’s important to the plot and not just for the sake of randomly killing children (it’s starting to seem like my rules are not standing up very strongly to these movies…).
On a better note, I thought it was awesome that the ghost is real! Once that was established, I was kind of reminded of Darkness Falls, which is another film I happen to like, so that only brought more good feelings to this. The hauntings were really pretty freaky, and I found myself trying to distract myself to avoid being scared at any “bang” moments. Once the Woman in Black starts charging and making that awful wailing screech, I found myself really impressed. And I have to take a second to talk about all the creepy toys around the nursery: perfect touch; so discomforting. The ghosts of the children were creepy, too, and I was never sure just what was going to happen in that big old house. The ghost of Nathaniel covered in mud was a little weird/ dumb, but otherwise it was all good.
I had already been predicting that Kipps would try to put the body of Nathaniel to proper rest, but the plot did get a bit strange during the whole scene where he and Daily use the car (1 point for technology!) to pull the carriage and Nathaniel’s corpse out of the mud. Obviously I wasn’t expecting the film to end well (as far as putting the Woman in Black to rest was concerned), but it was still nice of Kipps to try so hard.
Admittedly, I was still surprised by the film’s ending once it happened so rapidly. But I won’t ruin that for you here.
Final critique: Considering I decided to watch this movie on a whim, I am truly very pleased. Ghosts stories are usually great, especially when they end up being real, and even more so when the ghost is maleficent and just plain pissed off. The enjoyable plot and structure of the film was wonderfully complimented by a fair amount of thrills and chills throughout, instead of having them all come at the very end. With the prevalent theme of families being separated and reunited being brought to our attention throughout the film, it is certainly up to the viewer to decide if the movie has a sad or happy ending (if you can call it an ending, as we know for sure the Woman in Black isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon). I would recommend this film to anyone, but for those who scare easily, this will probably freak you out and give you some nightmares. I still am finding myself looking over my shoulder every time I hear a noise somewhere near me. Really an excellent film; perfect for the Halloween season.