Movies: "The Woman In Black" leaves suspense fans mourning

  A mist-shrouded English village. A handsome, brooding protagonist. A sinister haunted house. The Woman in Black has all of the elements of a rip-roaring ghost story, yet it somehow fails to excite.

Atmospherically, the movie is pitch-perfect. As widower Arthur Kipps (a grown-up Daniel Radcliffe) prepares for a business trip outside of London, viewers have a real sense of the bleakness of his life. He walks through the mists of the city as if he himself was a ghost, imagining the spectre of his wife wherever he goes.

Anchoring him to this life is his young son, Joseph (the cherubic Misha Handley, Radcliffe’s real-life godson). For him, Arthur is trying his best to succeed as a lawyer, though he is on thin ice with his firm. They offer him a chance at redemption by sending him to the rural Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of Mrs. Drablow (Alisa Khazanova) at Eel Marsh House.

From the start, the natives are suspicious and unwelcoming. At every turn, it seems, Arthur is thwarted in his attempts to do the job he was sent to finish. The local solicitor, with whom his firm had been working with, attempts to hustle him out of town immediately, but knowing his livelihood is on the line, Arthur insists on being taken to the house.

At high tide, the house is completely cut off from the mainland, and it isn’t long before Arthur begins to experience strange noises and a glimpse of a woman dressed in black. He imagines hearing a carriage accident and screams for help that go unanswered. Back in the village, he attempts to report the incident to the constable, but before long, real tragedy strikes as a child dies in front of him.

Shocked, Arthur is once again treated to the mistrust and scorn of the villagers who believe his presence in town is to blame for the girl’s death. His only ally, the wealthy Daily (Ciarán Hinds), invites the young lawyer to have dinner with him and his wife. The potentially pleasant repast quickly turns macabre as Daily’s wife, Elizabeth (Janet McTeer), is half mad with grief after losing her son many years back.

Daily offers Arthur his hospitality, as the inn claims to be fully booked, and drives him out to the Eel Marsh House the next day, despite protest from the villagers. Determined to work through the night to process the many boxes full of paperwork left behind by the late Mrs. Drablow, Arthur is subjected to the full wrath of the spirit, whom he soon determines to be the widow’s maiden sister, Jennet (Liz White), who was forced to give up her son.

Up until this point, The Woman in Black has built up a nice bit of dramatic tension, intriguing viewers with a triplet of mysteries. What precisely happened to Arthur’s wife? What tragedy befell Jennet and her son Nathaniel? And why are the children in Crythin Gifford dying violent deaths?

Sadly, the resolutions to all three mysteries seem anticlimactic as the story seems to lose focus in favor of hopscotching through a bunch of scary moments. Part of the blame probably lies with the screenplay by Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass), which is really more of an homage to the book by Susan Hill than a direct adaptation. In the source material, the story spanned a much greater period of time, and events transpired much more slowly, giving characters the chance to develop. In her attempt to provide thrills and chills, Goldman seems to have sacrificed some of the layers and nuances that would bring the story to life. Instead, viewers are left with plot holes in some places and much-too-pat resolutions in others.

The filmmakers also erred in their decision to punctuate every scary moment with screeching-violin sound effects engineered to make viewers jump. It shows a marked lack of trust in the audience to be frightened in the appropriate places, but also feels manipulative in the sense that the filmmakers knew they had to do something to make up for the fact that they took too many shortcuts in the storyline to build up to genuine scares.

The movie’s ending, which some might view as happy but others could justifiably see as morose, achieves at least one thing everyone can agree upon: like the Woman in Black, they will never forgive the disservice done to this story.

The Woman in Black is now playing in theaters everywhere.

For more information, visit the film’s official Web site.

Published on SoCal.com

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