Remakes are often a dreaded boon forced upon the world whenever a production company owns the rights to a somewhat popular movie and has run out of good ideas. I'm not going to go into the tired old discuson of the few good remakes (The Thing) and the plethora of atrocious ones (Halloween II), but I am going to talk about a British film from 1989 entitled The Woman in Black, based on the book by Susan Hill. While most films from that year fall prey to total lliness, this movie manages to avoid that and is, altogether, a very creepy movie. However, it is also dreadfully boring in some places, so in my opinion, it was ripe for a remake. Well, the iconic horror studio Hammer has picked that fruit, but does it hold up by today's standards?
The Woman in Black 2012 Review
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young, widowed lawyer who is asgned by his firm to head out to an old manon near a remote village where a woman named Alice Drablow has just committed suicide so he can take care of the deceased Drablow's legal affairs. When he arrives, he notices something is amiss in the village, nce no one wants to talk about the woman and everyone treats him with hostility. He manages to befriend a man named Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds), who gives him a ride out to the dead woman's house, which is in a marsh with a dangerous tide. Kipps decides to stay the night to sort through her paperwork, but he soon begins to regret that decion when he begins to see a woman in black on the property and discovers the tragic history of Alice Drablow and her son, Nathan. Night falls, strange things begin to happen in the house, and Arthur discovers his life is in danger. Can he lay the woman in black to rest, or will he join the village's children in eternal slumber?
The Woman in Black was one of my (if not my most) anticipated movies of 2012 for a few reasons (if you don't want to hear them skip this paragraph for the actual review). First of all is their marketing. The first poster they released was a creepy image of two for
children with their eyes burned out with a subtle image of a screaming face in the background. I was very surprised to see they didn't slap Daniel Radcliffe's name all over it, and it wasn't in 3-D! While the later posters did slap his name all over it, usually that first poster is the worst. They also released a very atmospheric poster depicting the woman in black with the ghosts of several children standing around her. Then there's my favorite: the retro Hammer poster. This is probably the best retro posters I've encountered, which is why I decided to use it for this review. The style and the way all these images were clumped together brought back so many memories, and by this time, I was counting the hours until this movie came out! The trailers were released, with a lot of creepy imagery and it looked as if it wasn't just going to be filled to the brim with jump scares.
Well, enough of my idiotic ranting; let's dive into this movie. Now, I think the biggest gripe people had when news about this movie broke was that Daniel Radcliffe (AKA Harry Potter if you've been living under a rock for the past eleven years) was playing the lead, Arthur Kipps. Yes, I was skeptical about his casting at first, but the movie looked like it was going to be alright even with him, so I walked in with zero prejudices towards him. And even given that, I thought he was spectacular! His acting in this movie is certainly above average, and if you can get it out of your mind that this is Harry Potter, than I guarantee you'll enjoy his performance. Another thing I liked about his casting is that it doesn't feel like he's some prissy actor who doesn't like to get his hands dirty. For example, in one scene, his character has to wade out into deep mud to get something, and he does it without any cut-aways, so we know it's actually him. The rest of the cast was phenomenal as well, but none of them really pack the punch Radcliffe's performance was.
Now, I know many people will disagree with me and everyone's standards for this are different, but I found this movie to be scary. Not that "rush-of-adrenaline" scary whenever something pops out of you followed by a "BOOM" noise, but 100% genuine fear that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Yes, this movie does have those jump scares, but it's such an even balance of genuine and pop-out, it didn't bother me in the slightest. There are some really cheap scares that are just thrown in for the sake of making the audience jump, and the reason these stuck out like a sore thumb is because all the others were also really, really creepy as well. In fact, probably the only reason I clasfy most scenes as jump scares is because of the loud "BOOM" noise that accompanies them. If you were to remove that sound from most of the scares, they would still be scary because they're so damn creepy!
I also should add that I love the pacing of this movie. It starts off slow, with some creepy scenes, a few cheap scares, a few funny scenes, but not really much happening. But when Arthur's night at the house begins...BAM! A fast-paced thrill ride of (literally) non-stop scares, plot twists, and enough atmosphere to make Superstition hang its head in shame. The Woman in Black is far from being gory, and there's no trace of nudity to be found here. This is proof that despite a PG-13 rating, a horror movie can still be really scary and very fun. It does use CGI for some scenes, especially when it comes to fog. While CGI fog sounds stupid and unnecessary, there's is an absurd amount of fog in some scenes of this movie, and I loved it! The effects for the actual woman in black are CGI as well, but personally, I thought she was terrifying nonetheless. There are some really bad CGI effects, though, and those really bring the movie down, but not drastically. It also has some unintentionally funny moments (or maybe it's just because I was in such a high state of anxiety I was willing to laugh at anything because I was so scared), like in the beginning with three girls jumping out of three windows. While that in itself isn't funny, you get to hear a woman shout, "My bay-a-bays!" in a really corny manner, which cracked me up and got me worried that I was in for a piece of shit movie.
Now, I might as well do some comparisons to the original. This film does exactly what every remake should do by keeping all the best parts of the original, tosng the bad parts, and adding new scenes that they're now able to accomplish with a bigger budget. While I have a hard time deciding which woman in black was creepier, I can say for sure that this is the scarier of the two. Yes, there are jump scares, which I normally dislike, but it conserves the creepiness of the original and adding more of it to the film. This remake also discards the tedious nature of some scenes in the original in favor of just rapid-fire scares all over the place. The one thing that probably worried me the most was whether or not the remake would keep the powerful and scary-as-hell ending of its predecessor and go with some happy-crappy end where everything works out OK. Well, we got that...sort of. After a point where I think it should have ended, there's like a scene that lasts thirty seconds or so that I felt was extremely superfluous. It feels like it was tacked on after an audience reaction test showed the original ending was, "too depresng" (which probably happened). As a result, the original ending wins, but if it wasn't for that final thirty-or-so seconds, the remake would win yet again. Also, in this film, the woman in black possesses some type of The Happening powers where her spirit wills kids to kill themselves instead of offing them herself, which I thought was a great and disturbing twist on the plot.
It has been an excruciatingly long time nce I have seen a truly frightening horror film. The last time I can recall watching one that left me with a bad case of insomnia was in 2009 with Paranormal Activity. nce then, everything had just been so carbon-copied with the producers thinking jump scares are the true way to terrify an audience. Yes, jump scares can be fun, but if your film is loaded with them (here's looking at you Paranormal Activity 3!), there's a good chance it's a worthless pile of crap. The Woman in Black, however, has defied the odds by making a fantastic movie with so many aspects that should have made it awful. It's a remake, it stars the guy from Harry Potter, it has bad CGI, and there's lots of jump scares. But somehow, it manages to be a very scary little package with a great storyline, great acting, great atmosphere, a good ending that could have been great, and overall, it's just a good time through and through. I'd say if you want to have a lot of fun, see this in a theater with a group of friends. If you want to have the you-know-what scared out of you, rent it when it arrives on DVD and watch it late at night by yourself. I ask, no, I implore anyone who is a horror fan to watch this movie, because it's a refreshing change of pace for the horror genre, and a great way to start off the new year (I'm trying to pretend The Devil Inde doesn't exist). It's also a great stepping stone for Hammer Films, and with this winner under their belt, I hope they make more fantastic movies (hopefully of the cheesy variety!).
The Verdict: The Woman in Black is the best and scariest new horror movie I've seen in a while, and is a must-watch for any fans of Gothic horror or just horror in general.
Score: 8/10. Highly recommended and worth buying on DVD, despite a few flaws.