Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Woman in Black

2012  **1/2

Okay, first the good news.  Once he takes off the specs, Daniel Radcliffe looks different enough from You-Know-Who that he should be able to enjoy the post-Potter career he deserves -- and he's got the acting chops to deserve one, too.  The bad news is that I can't recommend The Woman in Black to you my fellows, and I'll give you the main reason in less than 15 seconds:

You're not going to be surprised when the logo forms because the title is right there, but I had a brief moment of "Ooh, this is a cool Marvel Studios-style logo, was that Raquel Welch I just saw?" and then, well, I could read it.  Sigh.

To be clear, this was actually a big hit for Hammer and they don't care what I say.  But I though TWiB conformed perfectly to their usual formula; a seriously engaging and atmospheric set-up that just never really stops setting up, so you start to notice something is missing when the movie hits the two-thirds mark, and that missing something never really appears.

The promising opening involves a Edwardian era British tea party for dolls, interrupted when all three girls look at something in the corner, then look the other way in unison and, entranced, walk to the window and calmly jump out.

Making it the most interesting doll tea party ever.

Cut to our boy Arthur Kipps, a London lawyer whose wife died in childbirth four years earlier, a loss which still very much haunts him.  Radcliffe does a good, subtle job conveying a man driven by his duty to his son even though he is still overwhelmed by grief.  This has clearly been affecting his work, because when his boss sends him off to a remote coastal village in which their rich old lady client has died, he makes it clear that it's get the job done or you're fired.  If I understand England correctly, that means within a few days he'll be a toothless gray person with an outrageous accent lurking in the dark, urban corners of Mary Poppins.

As IF.  Am I right ladies?  Rowwwrrrr!

Descibing the parts of the movie that took place back when I still liked the movie, I admit a doubt about whether I'm being overly harsh.  This doubt first came up when I read about the 1983 novella (which I wiki-spoiled for myself) and the 1989 British TV movie (which I didn't), because it's possible that the small plot differences could have saved the flick.  The gothic atmosphere is totally there, as are some very effective scenes, especially because TWiB's MO is to make children kill themselves.

But then I predictably swept aside that doubt and now present my formal objections.  I just took some cough syrup a while ago and it's totally kicking in, so I'm not promising no spoilers.  Seriously, though, you think you want to see this?  You don't.  Trust your uncle Octopunk.  Just keep reading after the warning.  It's not yet, the spoilers start after that picture below.  Don't look at it!  Did you look at it?  Aw, forget it, you might as well keep reading.

Starting below the picture, besides spoilers, is 





This conveniently turned up on Cracked just the other day.

Item One:  Just fucking tell me already!

This can be a problem in all kinds of movies, and it comes from a very functional narrative place:  how do we keep the story going?  If there's a secret, you have to draw it out, otherwise there's no movie.  I get that.  But the gradual information flow must be achieved organically or it's instant bullshit.  

TWiB's deal is thus:  when anyone goes to the old manor in question, the one Arthur Kipps' firm is trying to sell, there's a danger they may see the titular woman in black somewhere over there.  All they have to do is see her once, and that means a child in the village will die.

When Kipps shows up he gets the traditional greeting of small villages in Hammer movies, that is everyone is surly and suspicious and shoo the children inside and clearly want him to go away immediately.   So fucking tell him!  The worst thing that could happen is he doesn't believe you and he goes anyway -- but he goes anyway because you didn't tell him anything!  And then after a kid dies he goes again!  Because you didn't tell him!

And Harry's not off the hook either.  He befriends the town rich guy who helps him out because he refuses to buy into the town's superstition, even though he lost a son himself.  At no point does our hero pull a Dorothy up there and say "So this superstitious crap that everyone in town believes I'm involved in... what is it exactly?"  Because that woulda been wicked smaht.

Item Two:  Jesus, Townspeople, just move already!

One couple has a kid who dies and then they have another one, who they lock in the basement so she can't hurt herself, which doesn't work.  Just move already!

Item Three:  Or maybe just burn down that house!


Item Four:  When things are there for a second and then they aren't there -- that is not automatically scary!  Do your work!

I like to think she's grabbing his butt.  I'd go for it if I were a ghost.  

Obviously the trick I'm describing can be used to tremendous effect if it's properly done, but the boilerplate attempts in this movie fall woefully flat.  I was particularly senstitive to this having watched the insufferable Insidious a week before (review pending, but you just got a one-word sneak peek).

The ending zinger was so predictable I was upset with the characters for not considering it.  Arthur Kipps' son is coming to the village with his nanny (again, something easily preventable with the right information), and Arthur thinks he placated the ghost because he never saw The Ring.  When the boy shows up Arthur says they're leaving town immediately, which is smart, but he doesn't think about the easily accessible train tracks or ever ponder what TWiB would do if she were still pissed...

The twist I didn't see is that he dies too trying to save the kid, and then their dead wife/mother is there and it's all nice and misty and nice and they walk away together.  Is that a final Fuck You from this bland, disappointing movie, or an actual good idea, turning very notion of a horror movie ending on its head?

I'm going with the Fuck You.  Because sure happy Harry can get ghost-laid or whatever, but his kid only got four years of life thanks to an angry bitch ghost.  That ain't cool.


Octopunk said...

Hey guys! Please accept my continued regrets that I've been so absent from reviews and comments. The minor Murray crisis that required me to stay up all night several nights in a row culminated with me getting sick. It's not super bad sick, but I've been spending most of my free time asleep trying to beat it. The up side is that I haven't been too sick to watch movies.

Omigod, that made me think to write a list of those movies (it's like six) and I can barely write! This cough syrup has jacked me up!

Catfreeek said...

Great review, I didn't feel quite so strongly about the film as you did. I thought they were a few genuine scares in it and I generally like those slow atmospheric ghost stories. I did however see your point about the towns people and their ignorance to tell him anything. I also kept wondering why they didn't move, I would have moved, I would've done anything to protect my children.

JPX said...

I saw this a few years ago but don't recall a thing about it so I avoided your spoilers - great review up to that point and I'll assume the rest of the review rocked as well. I'm sorry you're not feeling well! Once you have a kid you are doomed to catch every damn thing they catch at school.

Octopunk said...

JPX you're not making sense. I can't spoil a movie you've seen already, and if your argument is that you forgot the whole thing I will remind you that you'll probably forget reading my review as well.

JPX said...

Who is this?

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Why didn't you warn us about the spoilers Octo? Just kidding, excellent and hilarious dissection!

JPX if you don't remember anything then it's probably not worth revisiting.

DCD said...

I remember wanting to see this, I read your spoilers anyway. Get better, dammit! We miss you.

AC said...

We do miss you, sorry it's been such a rough October, get well soon! The cough syrup seems to have given you a wee man-crush on Harry potter, though.

Octopunk said...

Yesssss. The cough syrup....