Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Woman In Black (2012)

I have always been of the opinion that Daniel Radcliffe was going to have the hardest time having a career post-"Harry Potter" than the rest of the cast. It's not that he was the worst actor of the bunch, it's just that he has such a distinctive look that it's difficult to picture him as anything but Harry Potter. He can't do intimidating, he's not good looking enough to pull of "dashing," and he just doesn't have that presence that makes people radiate off the screen. Perhaps it's that he's never really had much energy in his performances, he's always kind of slummed it if you ask me. The dude needs a cup of coffee or something.

You know what I'm saying with that? It's not that he's a bad actor, I just can't see him taking on a role that required him to raise his voice or be even mildly animated. He always has to be gloomy and dour. Imagine if they remade "Interview With The Vampire" and cast Daniel Radcliffe in it. There's no way he'd be cast as LeStat. He'd be Louis. You can't imagine him being a character that was "fun." Just try and picture a Daniel Radcliffe character possessing even a dark sense of humor. Try and see him spouting off a one-liner. I just don't think he could do it.

You know, they'd probably cast Johnny Depp as LeStat nowadays, wouldn't they? And he'd still be playing Jack Sparrow.

Anyways, with Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, it's a little easier to see them having a successful career. Rupert has a sense of comedic timing that Daniel never seemed to possess, plus he looks goofy so *bam* put him in an English comedy.

Which he's already done, and was quite good in.

And of course, Emma Watson is hot now, so there you go. Instant career, although out of all the main cast I'd say she may have been the weakest link (especially in the earlier films). But hey, she got better as the series went on, and she's certainly better fare than most other teenage actresses. When people like Kristan Stewart and Miley Cyrus are running around in far too many films, at least we have people like Emma who can emote. True, she's no Chloë Grace Moretz, but nobody else is.

"The Woman In Black" is the first post-Potter outing for Radcliffe on the big screen, and you can tell that they really wanted to announce his christening as A REAL ACTOR (tm) with this one. As dark as the Potter series got, they never got "horror movie" dark, and aside from a gritty drama with a lot of swearing and nudity, a horror film is a pretty safe way to distance oneself from a prolific childhood role. Why do you think Radcliffe appeared naked on stage? He's A REAL ACTOR (tm) now.

So needless to say, I approached "The Woman In Black" from the standpoint of "Ok, Radcliffe, let's see what you've got." While I wasn't expecting an instant classic, the generally positive buzz I had heard lead me to believe I was going to get a fairly enjoyable film, and the fact that it was a Hammer Film lead some pedigree as well.

Then again, it was a horror movie released in the post-Oscar contender dumping ground that is the beginning of the year. The first three months of the year are always rife with lousy horror flicks because they have no competition since most of the big movies have already gone through most of the ticket sales they're going to have. Horror films seldom do gangbusters in the box office, so it's best to release when there isn't anything else to see. "The Woman In Black" was released on February 3rd. Oh my.

Yeah, this was no different than the others. It wasn't very good.

Nice scenery, though. True story - this is the English version of New York's Central Park.

Maybe if you're not really into horror movies it might fool you into thinking that it's scary, but it's not. And there are really two big things holding it back. The first is a mishandling of a very simple but almost always overlooked concept in horror, and the second thing is the fact that the villain didn't really DO anything.

First Thing. "The Woman In Black" isn't scary. It's startling. There is a HUGE difference that seems to be an almost alien concept now. Listen to me very closely, because I'm about to drop some science on you.


Pictured above - Not Pat.
LESSON #47 - "Loud =/= scary"

Fear comes from our natural "fight or flight" instincts. It's the reason people freak out when they see a big-ass spider or get punched in the face. You don't want this to happen, so your body goes into overdrive to help you get away from the offending big-ass spider or fist embedding itself in your nasal cavity. It's a big shot of adrenaline, and yes, it can be quite the jolt. That's why something flying out of the darkness out you going "HWWAAARRRGGGHHH!!!!" is going to put you on edge.

This is all well and good, but using loud sounds to replicate this fear in something that by itself is not scary doesn't work. You can't make a kitten jumping out of a closet scary, no matter how loud you make that stupid orchestra sting. It's still a kitten. All that's going to happen is that my heart is going to momentarily beat faster, my adrenaline will kick in despite the lie, and I'm going to be pissed off because I saw the jump coming a mile away anyways.

That's not scary. That's lying very loudly.

/science drop.

This is "The Woman In Black." A far too big percentage of the scares are false ones, and all but two scares feature the orchestra sting. What that is telling me, movie, is that you don't think too highly of me or yourself. You don't think you're scary, do you, movie? You don't think the scary images can stand on their own, so you have to add that 147 decibel jump scare to try and make nasty water coming out of a pipe scary, am I right? Because that's what you're doing. You're trying to make me afraid of a nasty, clogged up sink.

You don't hold me in a high regard, do you? Trying to make me scared of kitchen appliances? What is this, a Stephen King story?

"My god, I'm wistful."

Speaking of which, The Second Thing. It would be one thing if the orchestra stings were for something that was actually terrifying. I'm not talking about the sink now, I'm talking about the villain, the Woman In Black herself. True enough, she's a ghost that haunts the house that Daniel Radcliffe goes to, but there is a rather annoying issue that starts to make itself evident the further along the movie goes: She doesn't DO anything!

Oh, to be fair, she does make children kill themselves, which is truly horrifying, but that's after someone sees her. Then, at some short time later, after that person leaves the house, she makes a kid do something suicidal that ends in their death. Why she waits until the person she saw leaves is unknown to me, but that's besides the point. The point is that she doesn't lay a finger on Daniel Radcliffe's character, and actually seems totally incapable of doing so.

When it comes to Daniel Radcliffe, she poses no threat. She's not doing anything to him besides suddenly appearing next to him and screaming, or slowly...SLOWLY walking up on him from behind, stealthily making her way to him, as she gets closer and closer...until FINALLY...

She does nothing.

"Hello? Are you standing next to me again? Were you planning on attacking me? Pushing any heavy objects on my head? Scratching me with sharp nails? Anything? Shall I just go back to sleep, then? Would you be so kind as to not scream in my ear? It makes it difficult to nap."

So tell me, movie, why should I be afraid of her? She's doing nothing to him. I'll get nervous when he goes back to town, because I know a kid is about to die or something, but why do you keep a half hour long sequence going in the house when NOTHING BAD HAPPENS TO DANIEL RADCLIFFE? It's really quite annoying to have jump scare after jump scare with no payoff whatsoever. She doesn't even knock anything heavy on him or slam a door in his face. She just appears next to him and screams.

Pretty weak sauce there, ghost.

The best scene of the film is a truly terrifying image of the ghost/zombie/spirit of a child crawling up out of the mud. Daniel Radcliffe sees this through an upstairs window, and it's actually very creepy and well done. Soon after there's a pounding on the front door, and he goes down like an idiot to check it out.

It's a really well put together scene which gets pretty scary, until the muddy child shows up and...

does nothing except appear next to Daniel Radcliffe and scream.


Are you sensing a pattern here with this movie?

So in addition to breaking a whole heck of a lot of horror movie rules as far as "do and don't do's," I really didn't find "The Woman In Black" very effective in any form of genre you could name. The villain is lame, the characters are forgettable, and the scares are simply annoying and insulting. I would also like to give the makers of this movie a piece of free advice: If you want to make Daniel Radcliffe more masculine and more of a legitimate actor, don't have him call out the villain with a bunch of music boxes and children's toys. It tends to undermine any aura of macho.

Oh and the ending is balls, too.

THE BOTTOM LINE - There isn't enough to recommend "The Woman In Black" to anyone looking for a good horror movie. Fans of Daniel Radcliffe might find it an interesting curiosity, and he isn't terrible in it, but overall it's just not an effective experience, and you get the feeling that he deserves better than this. Watch the excellent "Insidious" for an example of how to do this kind of movie the right way. Skip this one, though.

1 comment:

  1. Personally I thought it was much better than 'Insidious'. I just thought that film was a bit ridiculous. No one has to be butchered in a film to make it scary, I liked the Woman In Black as it was quite subtly scary in parts and had a great pace.