Sunday, June 3, 2012

"The Woman in Black"...*yawn*...

As a Harry Potter Fan, I have seen my fair share of Daniel Radcliffe.  I, like a lot of other fans, watched him grow up in the Potter films.  With each installment, he brought young Harry to life.  A tortured young man who lost his parents too soon, and spent the better part of his formative years trying to keep himself alive.  Radcliffe had his moments of emotional explosion, but over all his portrayal of Harry wasn't all that expressive.  The Harry I got to know in the books was a much more expressive fellow.  To me anyway.  However, the fact that Radcliffe didn't bring much emotion to his face worked on the screen.  He didn't know his parents, his aunt and uncle were less than pleasant people, and when most young people are starting to get their first zit, Harry was dealing with the fact that he was linked to an evil wizard who wanted him dead. The guy had a lot on his mind. It's a wonder he didn't just internally combust.

(Radcliffe as "Arthur Kipps")
As with all good things, the Potter film series came to a conclusion just as the books had.  It was a great ride.  The last film was colored with a few disappointments (which I detail in my post "Harry Potter: The Final Installment"), but rarely are films adapted from books completely satisfying.  Over all, I have no serious complaints.  That being said...

With the last film behind him, Radcliffe is moving on to other projects.  It is his latest film that is causing him to show some chinks in his acting armor. Another movie based on a novel, "The Woman in Black". Whenever I see a film based on a book that I have read prior, I am inevitably disappointed. Rarely are film versions as good as the book.  A chief reason is film adaptations that keep within the relatively standard two-hour time frame, have to do some unfortunate (yet necessary) editing.  Since I had not read "The Woman in Black", by Susan Hill, prior to sticking the disc in the DVD player, I was a clean slate.  No knowledge of story gleaned from reviews...nothing.  I was looking forward to watching a Gothic haunted house movie, newly produced out of the hallowed Hammer Studios.  (I have long been a fan of Hammer films, especially their large collection of vampire fare.)  A cold beverage and snack on the coffee table in front of me, I settled in for some spooky fun.  Too bad that's not what I got.

I'm going to jump in here to warn of spoilers.  If you plan to see the film, I may give away more than you would want to know.  Also, I wasn't very thrilled with the movie, and that might color things for you before you even see it. The 'power of suggestion', and all. Moving right along...

Formulaic and laughable at times, I was glad that I waited to get a disc from Netflix instead of shelling out the ticket price to see it at the theater.  The "shock" moments (and I use the term loosely) could be seen a mile away.  The overall casting was okay, but with the unimaginative script it really didn't matter who they cast.  Well, I take that back.  There is one role.  One role that might have made at least a modicum of a difference if someone else had been cast. I hate to say it, but it is the role of Arthur Kipps...the one filled by Daniel Radcliffe.

(3 young girls we see jump out of a window to their death at
the start of the film...they ducked out early...wish I had.)
Arthur Kipps is a lawyer raising a four year old son. His wife died while giving birth to young Joseph, and Arthur still grieves.  His job on the line, Kipps is given one last chance to save his position.  He has to travel to the remote village of Cryphin Gifford, to examine papers associated with Eel Marsh House.  The Manor's owner has died, so Kipps has been assigned to sort estate matters out. Kipps goes to the town, and is met by cold townsfolk who want nothing more than for him to turn around and get on the train back to where he came from.  His one 'friend' in the village is Mr. Daily, a rich gentleman he meets on the train.  Daily drives the only motor car in the area, and after an initial trip out to Eel Marsh in a wagon driven by a reluctant and dreary Gorton's Fisherman-type, Daily becomes Kipps' chauffeur, of sorts.

The character of Arthur Kipps is the thread that should hold the film together. He is the one constant at the heart of the story. The bulk of the film is a solo Radcliffe hearing noises that he goes to investigate, never really finding much. (With the elements of 'things going bump', and a 'presence you know is there, but you can't see'...well, this film should be tailor made for me.  I have always preferred supernatural films to the blood and guts variety.)

Kipps never really seems to do any work...just sits and walks around looking like an emotionally defeated young man.  Creepy noises, images of faces in window glass, an empty rocking chair feverishly rocking away...nothing gets a reaction.  Radcliffe meanders the eerie set, sporting the same tired and expressionless mug through the entire film (see photo towards top of post for said expression).  I will say that the house set is fantastic.  Old, dusty, Gothic, and dark.  All the things a haunted house should be.  It still couldn't save the film.  I dunno, maybe it is the director who instructed Radcliffe to exude blank melancholia?  Maybe the vision was to try and adopt a Dickensian vibe? Whatever the case, it sapped the majority of the 'fear' out of the 'haunt'.

(The "Woman"...looks more like a demented Gene Wilder...)
Who is this "Woman in Black"?  Why do the denizens of the village want Kipps to stay away from Eel House?  Every question the film should have raised and eased us into was answered by me way before the reveals happened.  Yes, it's a maddening gift I have of being able to predict things.  It has from time to time ruined days where I just wanted to settle back and get lost in the world of film.  As for "The Woman in Black", the story line has been beaten to death in several respects, so much so that I think most people can probably figure out where things are headed.

Kipps' presence at Eel House gets the resident "Woman's" dander up, and she starts in on the children of the area.  It had happened before, and it's happening again.  She picks a victim, making the targeted child enter a sort of trance-like state.  Then the child commits a forced suicide.  This is where Daily and his wife fit into the story.  They had a young son who died.  The wife is a complete believer in the 'Woman' and her presence.  Daily is not, scoffing at the supernatural. The wife has "the sight" and keeps getting contacted by their deceased son.  There is a scene at the dinner table where she supposedly channels the boy, that I can only assume is meant to be disturbing.  It's actually pretty silly.

Years before, The 'Woman's' son died in a carriage accident.  Her sibling just left the boy's body buried in the moors, not giving it a proper burial.  This is supposedly the reason for her haunt.  She is lamenting her son. In her grief, she kills other children, and so on and so forth.  Kipps' decides to find the boys body submerged in the swamp, which he does with the help of Daily.  They reunite mother and son.  All should be well, right?  Of course it isn't...

(Hmm...I bet they're upset because they're in this movie...)
Kipps' son and nanny arrive on the train to spend some time with Kipps away from London. He meets them at the station, thinking that the 'Woman's' ghost has been laid to rest.  No, young Skywalker, she arrives at the station, influencing young Joseph to jump down on the tracks in front of the train.  Kipps sees him, jumps down to grab him, and...did they get struck?  He looks around, seeing no one.  Then...wait!  That light. Who is that blond gal?  Oh, wow, it's Kipps' dead wife come to take them to heaven.  As they walk away, Kipps turns to see the 'Woman in Black' standing on the tracks watching them go.  Aw, how touching.  She still saw fit to kill his son (and Kipps in the process), but she is letting them go to a happy place instead of hanging around the graveyard with the rest of the child sized ghosts. Disney would be proud.

Well, I had wanted to see it, and I have.  I didn't touch on all of the little minor points, but that is the bulk of it. It wasn't such a waste that I wish I could get my time refunded, but it was disappointing from a "haunted house movie fan" perspective.  Do I recommend it?  If you can see it on cable, and you like Radcliffe, then do that.  As someone who is a fan of the world of Potter, I do think Daniel Radcliffe has the ability to be a good actor.  I didn't see "Equus", which he got raves for.  For a number of years now, we all watched him grow up as Harry Potter.  I think I speak for most fans when I say that in many respects he "is" Harry Potter.  "The Woman in Black" was to be my first experience of seeing him step into the shoes of a new character.  I'll admit my expectations were a bit high.  I'm sorry to say that this latest effort was very disappointing.

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