W.E., Chronicle, and The Woman in Black

Various kinds of scary

(Page 2 of 2)

The Woman in Black reaches back into the horror-movie past, long before mad slashers and crazed gore frenzies infested the genre, to present us with an unapologetically old-fashioned haunted-house exercise. The picture pays vivid tribute to the fog-choked byways and richly decorated interiors of the old Hammer horror films (and is in fact the first release by that newly resurrected studio after some 30 years of commercial hibernation). But it also partakes of the narcoleptic pacing that hobbled some of those old pictures, and so despite this movie’s stylish design and agreeably vintage frights, it is also, sad to report, kind of boring.

The story is derived from a 1983 novel by Susan Hill that was previously adapted for British TV and radio, and has been running in a London stage version for more than 20 years. Clearly there’s an audience for this time-tested material; it only remains to be seen whether it’s an audience that also goes to the movies.

The setting is vaguely Victorian (although a briefly glimpsed newspaper story about Arthur Conan Doyle’s conversion to spiritualism would place it closer to the 1920s). Daniel Radcliffe, in his first post-Potter film role, plays Arthur Kipps, a morose young lawyer still shattered by the death of his wife in childbirth four years earlier. He is dispatched by his London office to the faraway village of Crythin Gifford, there to organize the estate of a recently deceased old woman. Arriving by train in the grim, unwelcoming village, he makes his way to her even grimmer residence—a dismal stone mansion situated in nearby marshlands at the end of a long road that’s submerged by high tides for many hours of each day.

Thus isolated, Kipps gets right to work. Sorting through records and letters, he eventually learns that the dead woman once had a young son; he died at an early age and ever since, a large number of local children have mysteriously followed suit. If it need be said, these dead kids are not really gone—nor is another notionally departed figure, a black-veiled woman who lurks in the surrounding forest, staring up through the rain and sometimes, alarmingly, making her way inside the house, where she peers out of high windows to spectral effect.

Considerable stretches of this 95-minute movie are devoted to Kipps creeping through spooky corridors with candle held high, summoned by strange knocks and rumblings and sudden shrieks, and unsettled by bloody footprints, dangling corpses and pallid children who clearly mean him no good. The picture is thick with decrepit atmosphere, and director James Watkins (Eden Lake) clearly savors it. He has a tight, cleanly fashioned script to follow (by Jane Goldman, who also worked on Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class), and some effective actors (especially Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer as a local landowner and his dotty wife). But the story’s unvarying predictability, additionally lumbered by Radcliffe’s glum and inexpressive performance, becalms the proceedings. Viewers new to this venerable genre may find its quaintness refreshing; those with longer memories might not. Two guys filing out of the screening I saw were divided. “That was really scary,” one of them said. To which his companion replied: “I fell asleep.” 

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, is now available. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.

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  • Joe M||

    Like Wallis, in one of her earlier marriages, Wally is burdened with an abusive husband; and like Wallis, she yearns for true love. That she eventually finds it in the arms of a lowly Ukrainian security guard (Oscar Isaac) who plays classical piano in his shabby loft is a conceit ridiculous beyond the call of implausibility.

    That is fucking hilarious. That's the kind of sentimental crap a first year creative writing student would be embarrassed to write.

  • ||

    This is about the most critical I've ever seen Loder towards a movie and he still seems to be pulling punches. It would be entertaining to see this reviewed by someone much more vicious.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Yes. I get the feeling this could have been like Ebert's North review:

    "I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."
  • ||

    I don't agree with Roger a lot, but usually when I do, we agree completely. And he has written some scathing reviews over the years. And that one was a doozy.

  • kinnath||

    The "your movie sucks" was a classic review.

  • ||

    Don't all eastern erupean hourly wage workers play orchestral or classical instruments?

  • ||

    man, I haven't even started drinking at the liberty on the rocks meeting tonight and I'm already typing like I'm a few doubles on the rocks into the night!

  • Gojira||

    Will there be some banner saying, "Reason Commenters Sit Here!"?

  • spencer||

    Bald fat due with a beard. We'll be in the front.

  • Gojira||

    Bald fat due with a beard.

    1. I don't know how you knew how to describe me, but it's creepy.

    2. I kind of imagine all libertarians who would meet at a bar to fit this description.

  • lily||

    looking for the bilover?---datebi*cO'm--- is a site for bisexual and bicurious singles and friends.Here you can find hundreds of thousands of open-minded singles & couples looking to explore their bisexuality.sign up for free.

  • ||

    I'm glad to hear that Hammer is back in the production business, but this doesn't seem like an auspicious start.

    I had seen the commercials for Chronicle and it looked sort of interesting (it reminded me of Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars), so I think I'll go check it out.

  • ||

    I'm glad to hear that Hammer is back in the production business, but this doesn't seem like an auspicious start.

    There's another haunted-house movie coming out at the same time called The Innkeepers that looks somewhat promising.

    Two of my favorite horror movies are The Others and The Orphanage. Both used atmosphere and slowly mounting tension to great effect (versus blood and gore and monsters). These two movies look like they're in somewhat the same vein.

    I'm still not sure if I'll ever buy Daniel Radcliffe as anyone other than Harry Potter.

  • ||

    The Orphanage is easily one of the creepiest and unnerving movies I have seen in a while. In fact I probably would not have to see it had I known it would be so nerve racking. I have an overactive imagination that seems to repulse all efforts from my rational mind to calm it down so I end up not sleeping well for a week or so. Some of the visuals in that movie are just pure nightmare fuel. It also had an unusually touching end for a horror movie. Highly recommended (for those who like horror movies).

  • ||

    The Orphanage is easily one of the creepiest and unnerving movies I have seen in a while. In fact I probably would not have to see it had I known it would be so nerve racking.

    And to think it accomplished all that without taking the easy way out and resorting to violence, bloodshed, monsters, and "boo" moments, the way most Hollywood horror flicks do. It's the same sort of skillful filmmaking that made The Others such a great film, and which has me intruiged with these two new movies.

  • Xenocles||

    I went through periodontal surgery a few months ago. It wasn't all that bad.

  • ||

    Now imagine if madonna was your periodontal surgeon!

  • ||

    Now imagine if madonna was your periodontal surgeon!

    Now imagine you're Madonna's gynecologist! No speculums necessary!

  • BakedPenguin||

    The Woman in Black reaches back into the horror-movie past, long before mad slashers and crazed gore frenzies infested the genre, to present us with an unapologetically old-fashioned haunted-house exercise.

    Japanese horror movies kept that alive. Dark Water was pretty much like that, IIRC.

  • MBC||

    Having fun with the old 'Postmodernism Generator' website?

  • John Locke||

    How did you know?

  • ||

    Having fun with the old 'Postmodernism Generator' website?

    I'd never seen that, but it makes perfect sense that it should exist. Foucault must be spinning in his grave right now.

  • John Locke||

    Indeed.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    You all know the title of the third movie reminds you of Queensryche.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr4qpH77Yio

  • ||

    Good reviews, Kurt, but for one small error: Hammer Studios was in fact resurrected last year with "Let Me In," the better-than-the-original remake of "Let the Right One In."

  • Katherine ManGoo Wad||

    We got a little naughty in the theater.

  • Katherine ManGoo Wad||

    We got a little naughty in the theater.

  • Katherine ManGoo Wad||

    We got a little naughty in the theater.

  • Dekedin||

    About W.E., I have no problem with completely amoral movies in theory. I think a movie about two shameless people squandering their wealth, cavorting with Nazis, etc., with no inherent message, could be pretty good. It would be like, "Hey, we're awful people who never got their comeuppance, deal with it." However, even amoral movies end up moralizing and wrapping everything up at the end. Judging solely by Loder's review, it seems the end of the movie seems like a desperate attempt to redeem the characters in the audience's eyes. Because they were truly in love, none of the stuff before really mattered. That's the point where movies about terrible people turn terrible themselves.

  • ||

    Kurt, I have a question about Chronicle. I wanna see it with some friends, but the shaky-cam footage is making me hesitate a bit. When I saw Cloverfield, I was on the verge of throwing up from the shaky-cam until I moved more to the back of the theater, but even that was kind of rough for me. Is the shaky-cam as bad as Cloverfield was? Or is it a bit more steady? No reviews I have seen have made this a point in their articles, so I take that to mean it must not be too bad, but I am still hesitant.

  • ||

    Dude is clearly corrupt as the day is long.

    www.surfing-anon.tk

  • ||

    Dude is clearly corrupt as the day is long.

    www.surfing-anon.tk

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