Friday, July 25, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘The Woman in Black’: Laughably gloomy

Having deliberately encouraged the nasty, black-garbed specter of Eel Marsh House to show itself, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) hopes to bring closure to the tormented spirit, thus eliminating its campaign of terror against the residents of a nearby village. Courtesy photo

By
From page A9 | February 03, 2012 |

“The Woman in Black”

Two stars

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White

Rating: PG-13, for dramatic intensity and numerous scenes of young children in peril

This film opens with such promise.

Sherlock Holmes’ England comes to vibrant life at the hands of production designer Kave Quinn, and star Daniel Radcliffe seems fully comfortable in this early 20th century setting. Scripter Jane Goldman concisely sketches a tragic back-story for this bereft young man — a solicitor named Arthur Kipps, whose wife died in childbirth — and director James Watkins gently surrounds us with an atmosphere of melancholy.

The mood turns intriguing, then ominous, as Kipps’ legal firm sends him to the tiny, remote village of Crythin Gifford (actually Halton Gill, in the middle of Northern England’s Yorkshire Dales: a truly lovely location). Mrs. Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow and sole resident of outlying Eel Marsh House — separated from the rest of the community by a lone roadway that floods with each high tide — has passed away; the estate is in something of a mess.

The local villagers are wary and terrified of … something … that they fail to share with Arthur. Eel Marsh House is haunted, of course, by “The Woman in Black”; this big-screen adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1982 novel is — by design — a classic Victorian ghost story.

Unfortunately, the film’s rich atmosphere goes to waste once we move past this prologue and its essential details; the story quickly runs off the rails, becoming sillier by the moment. Worse yet, Watkins sabotages his own efforts at building nervous tension by relying increasingly on in-our-face smash cuts, accompanied by both shrieks from the eponymous phantasm and discordant screeches from Marco Beltrami’s thoroughly obnoxious score.

In other words, we’re never actually frightened by these proceedings, merely startled by very loud noises. There’s a big difference, and the distinction — Watkins’ failure to generate actual terror — quickly grows tedious.

There’s no build-up in Goldman’s handling of the activity within Eel Marsh House; the place clearly is infested with bad vibes and worse from the moment Arthur steps across the threshold. The subsequent drill becomes predictable and monotonous: If our hero slowly bends forward to peer at or into something — Tim Maurice-Jones’ camera pulling in for a tight close-up — you can bet that something else will leap into Arthur’s (and our) field of vision. Generally screaming. As Beltrami’s jarring underscore clangs anew.

Ghost stories are supposed to make more sense as the underlying “big secret” is revealed: not so here. As essential details become clear, the behavior of these characters simply seems more daft.

It turns out that Alice Drablow’s sister, Jennet, bore a child out of wedlock; to avoid scandal, the boy was raised by Alice and her husband. But being separated from her son took a terrible toll on Jennet, who subsequently went mad when the little boy was killed in a tragic accident. Jennet, blaming her sister and brother-in-law for the boy’s death, hanged herself soon thereafter.

Most vengeful ghosts would be content to haunt those deemed responsible for their anguish, but no: Jennet is quite the monster. She takes out her wrath on everybody in Crythin Gifford: Every time her dark, spectral presence is seen, another child dies … horribly.

And so what do these villagers do, in the face of this obvious curse? Why, they just wait around for the next little girl to drink lye, or the next little boy to walk into deep water.

I dunno about you, but I’d at least try to move … oh … anywhere else!

Since Jennet’s enraged ghost obviously is responsible for this misery, and has been for quite some time before Arthur arrives at Crythin Gifford, why, then, are all the villagers so hostile to him? They know he’s not to blame, and yet they behave as if he’s in league with Satan himself.

On top of which, you’d think at least a few hopeful folks would seize upon Arthur’s involvement as a possible means of getting to the bottom of the mystery, and laying the ghost to rest.

Which is precisely what Arthur sets out to do. This leads to a third-act climax that is guaranteed to irritate viewers who expect positive (if not happy) results from valiant effort.

How can anybody be satisfied with such an outcome? It’s just a final, eye-rolling insult: an insufferable epilogue to a stupid story populated by fools we’ve long since ceased to care about.

The actors here aren’t to blame. Radcliffe does a fine job as the grieving Arthur, his sallow features and bleak gaze haunted more by his own anguished memories, than anything he encounters at Eel Marsh House. Ciarán Hinds makes a stalwart colleague as Samuel Daily, a wealthy landowner in Crythin Gifford who becomes Arthur’s sole friend and ally.

Janet McTeer, also a powerful actress, is equally memorable as Daily’s wife.

Misha Handley, Radcliffe’s actual godson, does an excellent job as Joseph, Arthur’s 4-year-old son: the child Arthur’s wife died bringing into this world. The camera simply loves this little boy, whose doting expressions and precious dialogue establish a strong, loving bond between father and son.

Genre fans will recognize, during the voluminous opening credits, that this adaptation of “The Woman in Black” also bears the banner of Britain’s Hammer Films. This venerable horror studio made its deliciously gory name with 1957’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” and 1958’s “The Horror of Dracula,” both turning Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee into stars.

A few attempts to resurrect the studio brand have been made since its fade-out in the mid-1970s, but nothing “took” until quite recently, after Dutch producer John De Mol purchased the company’s name — and voluminous film library — in 2007. The best result thus far was this revived Hammer’s involvement with 2010’s “Let Me In,” the nifty remake of the Swedish vampire film “Let the Right One In.”

Unfortunately, this “new” Hammer also was behind last year’s atrocious Hilary Swank vehicle, “The Resident,” and now “The Woman in Black.”

Simon Oakes, present and CEO of today’s Hammer, insists — I’m quoting press notes — that “his incarnation of Hammer (will) focus on genre movies that are intelligent.”

Apparently, the makers of “The Woman in Black” failed to get that memo.

More’s the pity.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Tech Trekkers boldly go into STEM fields

    By Amy Jiang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Decoding breast milk secrets reveals clues to lasting health

    By Pat Bailey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    California climate change policies to hit our pocketbooks

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A1

     
    Unitarians will host summer camp

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Artists, photographers invited to support Yolo Basin Foundation

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Wetlands visitors will see migrating shorebirds

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    ‘Bak2Sac’ free train ride program launched

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Explorit: Wonderful wetlands right at home

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A8 | Gallery

     
    Recycle old paint cans for free

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

    Where your gas money goes

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A12

     
    Can you give them a home?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16 | Gallery

    Americans, internationals make connections

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

     
    STEAC needs donations of personal care items

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16, 1 Comment

    .

    Forum

     
    Support these local restaurants

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Let’s get the bench repaired

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

    Predicting climate changes

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

     
    Clinton’s book is worth a read

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Thanks for emergency help

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Commenting system to change

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10, 14 Comments

    .

    Sports

    Hudson solid, Hammels better in Giants’ loss

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Petrovic, Putnam share Canadian Open lead

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Moss powers A’s past Astros

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    My Zenith was whacked, but I wouldn’t trade a thing

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    Enriquez brilliant, but Post 77 season ends with Area 1 loss

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    The un-Armstrong? Tour ‘boss’ Nibali wins Stage 18

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    Clyde Elmore: Art in the Wild

    By Evan Arnold-Gordon | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Musicians perform at Sunday service

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A17 | Gallery

    .

    Business

    Accord’s latest model is most fuel efficient

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Richard ‘Dick’ Robenalt

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, July 25, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: A13