The Woman in Black
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"Why am I frowning in all these pictures?" Arthur asks his young son when looking at the boy's crayon drawings. "Because that's how your face looks," the boy innocently replies. And as much as those words sting, Arthur knows they're true. Ever since his wife passed away in childbirth, the young lawyer has been struggling. When she died, a large piece of Arthur died with her. But that's going to change.
Arthur just needs to complete this simple job in front of him. He'll show his firm that he can be dependable. That he can get beyond the pain. And then he'll be OK. Then he'll begin again with his son. He just has to take care of the dead Mrs. Drablow's papers first.
Of course, those bundled and crumpled documents are stashed and hidden all over a cobwebby old mansion—a creepy place set out in the middle of nowhere on an island that can only be reached by carriage during low tide. The locals are protesting his efforts and warning of hauntings. But he's not a man who believes in such things. He's sure he can do what needs doing and be done with it.
Until he sees the woman in black.
There she stands in the graveyard near the house, all wrapped in a shroud. And when he hurries down to see who she is, she's gone. All he finds is a thick swirling haze and a huge cross, set atilt, deep in a murky black marsh. Arthur is alone with the fog and his chilled thoughts.
And then the screaming begins.
Arthur's love for his dearly departed wife and anguish over her loss is palpable. He thinks of her repeatedly—as she was in life and in disjointed visions of her as a spirit clothed in white. He certainly loves his son, but he's had a hard time staying focused on the world as it is, rather than as it was. Still, he wants to set things right in his life no matter what it takes. And he dedicates himself to starting over for his boy's sake.
Mr. Daily is one of the only people in the dreary village of Crythin Gifford who's willing to help Arthur. He sees a sort of kindred spirit in Arthur and gives all the support he can, including almost ruining his expensive car to pull a wagon out of the marsh.
Since this is a ghost story, dark, spooky happenings abound. The old mansion, the Eel Marsh House, creaks and thumps. Small dolls and toys seem to take on life. Echoes of past events—deadly events—shout out of the fog. And we see The Woman in Black in numerous spectral forms, from formless shadow to a screaming reflection in a window pane to a flashed vision of a hanging corpse to a disconnected dark-eyed face to a full-bodied, very solid menace.
Arthur studies an ad in the newspaper for a spiritualist who holds séances. And he implies later that he's already tried that course to reach out to his wife. Mr. Daily, however, refuses to believe in all the ghost talk. "If we open the door to superstition, where does that lead?" the man asks. "It's just chasing shadows. When we die, we go up there. We don't stay down here."
The movie begs to differ. We see the ghosts of dead children standing together in a graveyard. Arthur drapes a crucifix around the neck of a child's corpse. Tombstones are adorned with crosses and angel figures. Some sport inscriptions. We read, "God protects me" and "In God's hands."
Mr. Daily's wife believes she is possessed by the spirit of her dead son. A couple of times she flies into a spasmodic fit, grabs a sharp object and begins carving a message into any nearby surface. Once, she speaks with a child's voice. Arthur finds papers scrawled with hate-filled curses. "Get thee to hell, you harlot," one reads.
[Spoiler Warning] Arthur and his son are reunited with Arthur's wife in the afterlife. They blissfully hold hands and walk away together.
On several occasions, the ghost woman's specter appears and silently commands children to kill themselves. Thus, we see one girl set herself on fire, three others jump out of a third-floor window, a 5-year-old boy walking toward an oncoming train and a girl spitting up blood after drinking lye. (We don't see the impact of falls or speeding vehicles.)
When Arthur's wife dies, the camera focuses on a bloodstain on the bed sheets. A fire consumes a family's home, killing their child. In an attempt to retrieve a body from the marsh, Arthur sinks beneath the mucky surface and almost drowns.
Crude or Profane Language
One use of "h‑‑‑." Two or three misuses of God's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Arthur and Mr. Daily drink glasses of wine and brandy throughout. Arthur also shares a few glasses of alcohol with the innkeeper's wife at the local hotel. During one of Mrs. Daily's fits, her husband renders her unconscious with what appears to be a cloth soaked with chloroform.
Other Negative Elements
Horror buffs may remember the name Hammer Film Productions—a moniker that was splashed across the title screens of lots of classic Frankenstein, Dracula and Mummy movies back in the '50s, '60s and '70s. Now, in the post-Harry Potter era, this Daniel Radcliffe vehicle is the first film in many a mist-shrouded full moon to resurrect and wear that badge. And it's a pretty good fit.
This is a Victorian-sensibility ghost tale that takes an old-school approach to the art of a scare. Why spend gazillions on CGI monstrosities and a huge cast of ghoulies when one man alone with mucky marshes, thumping floorboards, smoldering candle wicks and deep, dank haunted mansion shadows will do? The shrieks, creaks and mirrored peeks deliver an almost organic-feeling, back-to-basics kind of chill. And Radcliffe—bestubbled, no longer bespectacled and looking older—does a respectable job in a morosely gothic, blandly low-key way.
Like all those monster mashes before it, however, The Woman in Black has its share of problems. There are logic holes here big enough to drive a rather large poltergeist and her horse-drawn carriage through. And the movie's convulsing spirituality contradicts itself repeatedly with promises of a peaceful afterlife juxtaposed against an all-powerful vengeful evil that can murder innocent children and leave them trapped in eternal torment.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps; Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Daily; Misha Handley as Joseph Kipps; Liz White as Jennet/The Woman in Black
James Watkins ( )
February 3, 2012
May 22, 2012