Monday, March 19, 2012

Woman In Black

Eight movies over a decade acting like a wan, clueless orphan in over his head has prepared young Daniel Ratcliffe well. Now that he's matured as an actor his latest adventure, Woman In Black, features him as a wan, clueless widower in over his head.

Watch out for that typecasting, Master Radcliffe.

Woman in Black is a classic "old dark house" movie, complete with angry villagers, belligerent poltergeists, creepy kids and supernaturally aware dogs. Before the campy 1931 film Old Dark House, these tropes of the haunted house story had been used sincerely and effectively since the beginning of the novel, with Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto and Mrs. Radcliffe (no relation), even when the latter was parodied so effectively by Jane Austen in her first novel Northanger Abbey.

Whoops. Sorry. Slipped into PBS mode there for a second.

So, the story is that our young widower must execute the papers of some estate, apparently on the premises, where his presence disturbs an extremely nasty filicidal spirit. I don't want to spoil it, but the cool thing about a movie like this is that you really can't spoil it much. It's all hoary old tropes and plot devices, but executed both very competently and very sincerely.

It's non-ironic.

Director James Watkins has a sure hand on all the proceedings, building from a slow start (which will be too slow for some) and then cutting loose about half-way in but without a lot of splashy CGI. It reminded me favorably of the old George C. Scott horror The Changeling.

I understand Radcliffe took some flak for being "too young" for the part but, of course, he's not. The movie takes place one hundred years ago and he's the exact right age for the time. As already noted, he's a pro at looking haggard.

The supporting cast is quite good, as you'd expect, with Ciaran Hinds (of The Debt) and Janet McTeer (whom I didn't recognize from Albert Nobbs), and lotsa spooky looking kids.

The music was spot on as well, and well done. Not over-loud but tending to sneak up on you and making tense moments.

Anyway, you know if you want to see this one: It's a non-gory, reasonably scary haunted house flick in the gothic tradition. If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like.

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