Too often, the Horror movies we see at the multiplex can only barely be considered Horror Cinema. They settle for scares on only a couple of levels – stories that put characters in dire situations, and added gore to make it seem fatal.
But that isn’t the case this weekend. The Woman in Black, opening today, might be mostly known as being Daniel Radcliffe’s first post-Potter film – but it deserves credit for being a completely decent horror film.
Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a young, widowed Lawyer. (Lest you think he’s too young for this role, the movie takes place in England at the beginning of the twentieth century). At the bottom of the totem pole in his law firm, he’s sent into the country to look over the affairs of a deceased household, and set everything in order. Of course, that Household is also haunted, so, you know.
That’s not the most original horror set up, but story has little to do with efficacy in this genre. What matters are scares, and in that regard The Woman in Black stands out.
Director James Watkins knows what he’s doing here. The film begins grounded in story, but once we get into the second act, he lets the chills fill the room. Indulgent haunted house set design help to set off a great air of creepy, and darkness is used proficiently to scare without ever feeling like a crutch in the story (On no, the flashlight is dead!), even if Harry Potter fans will want to scream “Lumos!” in the theater.
What really sets up the scare, though, is a plot that doesn’t feel obligated to spell everything out for the audience. Without even trying to be a mystery, a lot of what makes the Haunted House so menacing is letting the Ghost scare our protagonist without explaining why. Eventually, motives are reveled, but not without dangling you in the dark beforehand.
But as much as The Woman In Black escapes the typical horror escapades in favor of a legitimately creepy feature, it is not without one major exception. Though the scares are carefully crafted from behind the camera lens and in the editing room, the sound work is huge and pedestrian. On many instances, crows fly by with the audible heft of Professor X’s Blackbird, and the levels on the score are raised too high when a scare hits, all amounting to an abuse of cheap thrills. It’s like reading a good book secondhand, with the previous owner underlining and highlighting every good part – it’s hard to be scared when you’re so clearly being told to “BE SCARED!” by the filmmaking.
While it isn’t perfect, it deserves a lot of credit for trying to thrill cinematically with creepy, gooey marshes and blurred figures hidden in the background of shots. Even with its mistakes, The Woman in Black is enough to placate this starved Horror fan.