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Tuesday, February 21, 2012  

M. Ovie Reviews: The Woman in Black

Despite its Victorian setting (and the attendant plot-required trappings like trains, telegrams, and oil lamps) The Woman in Black is in every sense a ghost story in the 21st century template. An unsuspecting outsider blunders into a vicious haunting, inadvertently finds himself the target of the ghost's wrath, discovers its backstory, takes it upon himself to resolve the ghost's major malfunction (usually entering some dark or dirty or watery location in the process, and in this case all three), succeeds against all odds, and assumes all is well and the curse is lifted, only to get screwed one last time in a final twist, good and hard and with his or her pants on.

That's not to say this iteration isn't well-executed, because it is. It's mostly set in a creepy dark filthy old house whose only access road is submerged by tidewaters for much of each day, and during every moment Daniel Radcliffe spends in it -- shuffling papers by candlelight, investigating strange noises, peering slowly around blind corners, and generally displaying the genre's required lack of self-preservation -- you just want him out of there. But he's got a powerful motivation to stay there beyond the usual self-destructive curiosity. A widower with a four-year-old son (who, amusingly, always draws him with a cartoon frown), he's got a task to complete if he wants to save his job. In fact, the drift of disorganized paperwork filling the house is the scariest thing in it for the first act.

But there are plenty of good scares, some of which gave me literal chills, and one of which elicited a loud, involuntary, "Oh, shit!" from a member of the very well-behaved audience. Knowing these moments are coming doesn't seem to help, because they're always coming.

Radcliffe does well in the ninth movie I've seen him in (you've probably seen the other eight too). With his trademark Boy Who Lived glasses replaced by pointy sideburns and a pocket watch on a chain, he proves quite able to convey extreme distress without clutching at his forehead. But then, on the other hand, when I was remembering some scenes…well, you know how sometimes your brain involuntarily recasts an actor in your memory? Mine recast Keanu Reeves. So…yeah.

There's also a really strong supporting cast, including the giant head of Ciarán Hinds from Rome, who serendipitously becomes the hero's new best friend; Janet McTeer as his unhinged wife; and a bunch of really stressed-out townspeople. I should also add that the kid playing Radcliffe's son looks a lot like the woman who plays his dead wife. I hope it's not giving too much away to say that.

As for the end, it's actually kind of satisfying, but then the very last shot is just silly. It'll make you say, "Oh, shit," but in a totally different way.

posted by M. Giant 3:25 PM 0 comments


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