Tuesday, February 7, 2012

'The Woman In Black' succeeds where its counterparts fail

Last night was a momentous night for me. Not only did I rewatch "Super 8" (a surprisingly underrated throwback movie), I went to a late showing of "The Woman In Black," the first quality horror movie in the past few years (AT LEAST) and possibly one of the best I've seen.

But let's start from the top in this breakdown:

Daniel Radcliffe has been the butt of jokes since he started the Harry Potter franchise. To distance himself from such a prolific role, what better way than to disappear to a haunted marsh, desolate of magic, but full of evil atmosphere?

Much has been made of how much Radcliffe would have riding on his first major role since "the boy who lived," and I'd have to say he surpassed all expectations. In a film that doesn't spend a lot of time regaling the audience with back story, Radcliffe forms an instant bond with the viewers by simply emoting what we all feel: when we are desperate, we seem courageous; when we are fearless, it's only skin deep. Radcliffe wins us over by being as steadfast as your everyday horror hero but also very human about his decisions to remain in the thick of things. By the time our hero is in danger, we aren't just afraid of what will happen, we're afraid of what will happen to him.

The catalyst that brings all elements of the movie together is in the hands of James Watkins, whose past credits (including "The Descent 2") don't exactly promote the wonderful work he's done here. The atmosphere of the movie is done in a way that it almost feels like a dream you've had before. That in itself would be engaging, but the level of detail he adds to that feeling- the unsettling villagers, the wooden creaks, and of course the vaguely menancing spirit- forces you into a world where nothing seen or heard is ever doubted.

The story itself is based off of the novel by Susan Hill. It was done as a TV movie in 1989 and adapted this go-around, notably, by Jane Goldman ("X-Men: First Class," "Kick-Ass"). Goldman brought to this what she subtly brought to both of those films: a no-nonsense attitude that refuses to insult the movie-goers intelligence.

It's a simple premise really: a man in debt goes to a spooky house amidst rumors of a haunting presence. The same thing we may have heard one hundred times, but this movie does what others don't have the nerve to do: NOTHING. You won't see any of the conventions that have become commonplace, and the ones you do see will be crafted elegantly enough to be forgivable.

To be fair, the amount of jump scares is almost infuriating, but only because the atmosphere pulls you under a blanket of cold, dark dread.

But all in all, when you see a faint figure down a hallway, or feel a spectre ominously gliding towards our likeable hero, you will forget for a moment that you've heard it all before. You'll be listening to your childhood friend telling you a grim tale. Only this one will be full of visuals that you didn't (or didn't want to) imagine.

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