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The Woman in Black (2012)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/22/2012

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/18/2012

I'm not afraid to say it, I love horror movies. And this is a good age for horror movie lovers, as several hit the home video market each week. Ghosts, monsters, vampires, zombies, killers -- there's no shortage of the kind of fright flicks which arrive on store shelves. Despite this apparent diversity, most of these movies forget the most important thing -- to try and be scary. Some work on being shocking, but most simply present a cliched horror movie story, but make no attempt to genuinely be shocking or creepy. Thus, when a movie with some actual chills comes along, it truly stands out. The Woman in Black isn't the scariest movie ever made, but the fact that it makes an effort causes it to stand out.

The Woman in Black is set in the early 20th century and introduces us to Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a solicitor and single father. As his wife died in childbirth, Arthur is raising his son (Misha Handley) with the aid of a nanny (Jessica Raine). His depression has caused his work to suffer and thus, Arthur doesn't argue when his boss sends him to an isolated coastal town on an assignment. Arthur takes the train to the town and immediately gets the cold shoulder from the locals, save for businessman Daily (Ciaran Hinds). Arthur is told that he doesn't have a reservation at the end, and his local contact, Jerome (Tim McMullan) claims that he needs no help. Undaunted, Arthur makes his way to a creepy mansion which sits on an island across a causeway which is impassable at high tides. His task is to sort through any legal papers in order to prepare the house to be sold. He goes about this, but feels as if he isn't alone in the house. Returning to the village, Arthur witnesses the death of a young girl. Back in the mansion, Arthur is convinced that he sees a woman wearing a black veil, but the townspeople refuse to discuss this. Arthur's assignment becomes an afterthought as he begins to dig for clues as to who the mysterious woman is and to see if she is linked to the deaths of the children in town.

The Woman in Black is the latest entry from the newly reformed Hammer Films and it plays like one of the gothic horror films from the 50s or 60s which put that company on the map. But, this isn't a homage to those movies -- no, this is a straight-ahead gothic horror movie. There is no tongue-in-cheek wink-wink to the audience to say, "Hey! We look like an old movie!". No, The Woman in Black plays everything completely straight and attempts to be as authentic as possible, with the desolate small town and the creepy, overgrown house. Although set in a time when electric, or at least gas, lights were available, Arthur is forced to work by candlelight in the house, further reinforcing that gothic feel. The movie is also paced like an older movie, as the slow first half nicely sets us everything for the scares of the second half.

And when those scares come, The Woman in Black is very effective. The first act introduces us to the story and the second act offers clues as to what is happening in the town. Midway through the second act, the movie simultaneously loosens up a bit and begins to flex its scary muscle, while tightening the screws on the audience. Some creepy things happen in the earlier scenes, but once Arthur is confined to the house, and the ominous presence of the woman in black, the creepy moments come faster and faster. One these sequences start, Director James Watkins isn't afraid to let The Woman in Black become a full-fledged horror movie, which certainly isn't a bad thing. The sequences of shocks here reminded me of the middle part of Insidious, although it wasn't as scary as that great film. (However, I must say that The Woman in Black missed some opportunities for scares, as I kept expecting something odd to happen with a child's drawing. Also, Watkins keeps going back to a shot of a long, dark hallway. So when something finally emerges from it, we aren't all that surprised.)

Even with its impressive attributes, I can see how some audiences wouldn't appreciate The Woman in Black. Again, this is a throwback to an older style of film-making (despite some CG effects). The movie is slow in the first act and it slowly unveils the mystery occurring in the town. But, patients viewers will be rewarded with a genuinely creepy movie. Daniel Radcliffe begins his process of shaking off Harry Potter with this film and he does a fine job of playing both frightened and caring. The film is very well-done and carries a certain sense of authenticity, as it feels that the movie really was shot in the past. Based on a novel which became a stage-play, The Woman in Black proves that there is still a place in the world of film for an old-fashioned ghost story.

The Woman in Black contains one of the worst names for a dog ever on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no significant defects from the source material. There were a few shots in the fog which showed notable shimmering effects, but otherwise, the image is stable. Despite the dark photography, the image is never overly dark and the action is always visible. The movie is decidedly monochromatic, but the few splashes of color look good. The detail in the image is good and I didn't note any distracting artifcating. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track really takes advantage of the scenes in the house, as we are constantly treated to strong stereo and surround effects. Arthur feels like things are happening all around him in the house and it certainly sounds that way. We also get deep subwoofer thuds when the shock scenes occur.

The Woman in Black DVD contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director James Watkins and Screenwriter Jane Goldman. "Inside the Perfect Thriller: Making The Woman in Black" (10 minutes) contains a selection of comments from the cast and filmmakers who discuss the story and themes of the film. From there, the piece turns to the look of the film, including the costuming of the titular character and the production design of the main house and it's lawn. Watkins then discusses the generation of the scares in the film. I was really hoping that this would examine the source novel or the long-running play, but despite a quick comment from author Susan Hill, it doesn't. "No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps" (4 minutes) contains comments from Radcliffe, Watkins, and the other actors who talk about the young actor's performance and how he approached the role.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long