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Saturday
Feb042012

'The Woman in Black' review - Harry Potter and the haunted mansion

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Daniel Radcliffe would not be happy if he read the headline for this article. The last Harry Potter movie debuted less than a year ago and he’s been working steadily ever since, trying hard to let us know he is more than just Harry Potter. He hasn’t succeeded yet. Though I enjoyed The Woman in Black, I kept wishing for a little wizard action. Where are Hermoine and Ron when you need them? 

The film is based on a novel by Susan Hill and Radcliffe plays the lead as a widowed father who is about to earn his stripes as an amateur paranormal investigator, Arthur Kipps. While he definitely doesn’t look old enough to be a father of four years, the Victorian-era setting certainly helps his case. He’s sent to a creepy old mansion outside of a port town to collect the legal documentation of its last occupant. The town has been suffering from a string of child suicides for years now, and the townspeople blame it on the ghost of a scorned woman who lives at the house. Enter Kipps. 

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Despite the warnings of villagers, he enters the abandoned, scary mansion by his lonesome, and it isn’t long before his work is inturrupted by its ghostly inhabitants. The mansion is dark, filled with taxadermied monkeys, ominous paintings of people long dead, far too many dolls, and some of the creepiest windup toys I’ve ever seen. It may be the most frightening house in a movie, but it is made more chilling by the patience and focus of Director James Watkins. Many modern haunted house films turn to gore and spectacle to get a rise out of audiences but Watkins and writer Jane Goldman spend ample time letting Radcliffe explore every room of the decrepid home with little more than a candle to guide and protect him. Watkins uses zoomed in shots of rooms and creepy dolls and items to do much of his dirty work. But of course, the ghosts help too.

Dead children and the frightening ghost of a woman in black haunt the home and the grounds around it. She’s not a happy woman either, often angrily rocking in a chair in a dead child’s room or trying to attack Radcliffe as he sleeps. She’s also excellent at making just enough noise to distract Radcliffe from his paperwork collecting. He must not be the first lawyer she’s messed with.

Radcliffe isn’t a bad actor, but he doesn’t bring much presence to the role of Kipps, and could have been interchanged with almost any decent actor in a pinch. But the movie isn’t about him as much as it’s about the ghost and the mystery. A friend he makes in town named Mr. Daily, played by Ciaran Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), has a small, but memorable role as does Kipp’s son, played by a little boy named Misha Handley, who will, no doubt, pick up a lot of child roles in the next few years. Janet McTeer is alluring as Mr. Daily’s wife, who claims her son sometimes inhabits her body. So devestated by the loss of her little boy, she now mothers her dogs. 

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Two things that bothered and delighted me. I was quite pleased that Kipps stayed quiet and kept his mouth shut while he explored the haunted mansion. Almost unamimously, movie characters yell out “Is anyone there?!” or “Hello?!” when they encounter something scary. This is the worst reaction because if there is a ghost or an axe murderer or whatnot, they’ve now been tipped off to the main character’s location, gender, and state of fear. To keep the upper hand, you must find a weapon and be quiet. It’s nice to see that Kipps didn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way. But while his character is smart about traversing the mansion, I cannot figure out why he has to come back two or three more times, and why he would risk coming back alone each time and even staying the night? He claims he has to finish the paperwork, but there doesn’t seem to be a good reason why he can’t grab the papers and leave with them. Perhaps he wants to come back?

The Woman in Black is a fantastic horror movie that relies more on its moody atmosphere and the tension it builds than killing people and showing the gore. At times, the scares crutch a bit too much on the fantastic sound and editing department to deliver shocking loud shrieks and scary cuts, but you can’t  escape shock tactics entirely in today’s films. If you’re looking for an interesting story and some good scares that won’t gross you out too much, this is the movie for you.

Rating: (Good)

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