I recently watched The Woman in Black. I actually started my usual method of riffing comments as they pop into my head but that plan died about three minutes in. I’m not saying that this movie is unriffable but it just seemed wrong after a while. This movie was too well done to really make fun of. I was actually really looking forward to seeing this movie because way back in the day I actually designed lights, sound and helped build the set for a stage production of The Woman in Black. (Most long time readers won’t remember this)
I realized that I never really talked about the rest of that experience. Like any writer/artist I shudder when I look back at my old stuff and that was a full six years ago. I was having a lot of fun playing with a new digital camera and I was genuinely impressed with what we were doing. I continued to work on the show and it was an amazing production even if I was usually pretty frazzled back when I worked at Tri-State Actors Theater.
The show was very intense work and I fell into my usual ten to thirteen hour work days followed by sleeping late. I built sets and hung and pointed lights in the late morning until the evenings. The set was pretty much just a giant false proscenium with a black scrim stretched across it. The structure was mammoth and it took three people to rig it to the ceiling with the cable and fittings we had picked. The lighting was dark and subtle and a great fit for a dark, gloomy horror story. I was really proud of all of that work because I had never done any work in horror before.
These long days originally left me doing all of the sound work in the middle of the night in my tiny, cold room that I rented in the back of a framing shop. In retrospect, I probably should have seen a lot of parallels between my late night, solitary work and the work Arthur Kipps was doing. Eventually, doing this work at night started to take its toll. Finding horrible recordings and building sound cues like “Horse and Child Drowning in Swamp” in the middle of the night started to make me a little crazy. I had to switch to doing the sound work in the morning and do the lighting work late at night instead. My psyche thanked me for it. Eventually we built a rich soundscape and true horror includes plenty of sound cues.
So after all of that, how did the movie stack up? I really liked it. Daniel Radcliffe plays a complex version of Arthur Kipps and gets a lot of mileage with very little dialogue. He has come leaps and bounds from his time in Dumbledore’s Army and has really grown up. The rest of the cast is spot on with a special nod to Ciaran Hinds who gives an especially moving performance. The voice overs for the title character were well done and held the right amount of grief to the point of insanity.
The story is a rough one to get through and I forgot how much it terrified me. I would warn those who are parents that any version of this story is going to be especially rough on you. The terror is mixed so much with tragedy, sympathy and deep, dark emotions related to being a parent. Themes include untimely death, revenge, grief, guilt, isolation and depression which are all incredibly heavy. The story is told in a straight forward manner in the movie with very little actual dialogue. The stage version has a framing device which actually adds a terrifying little twist but the story can do without it.
A little ways into the film I thought there was going to be too many jump scares and not enough real horror. Jump scares are nice for startling the audience and jangling their nerves but it is startling, not terrifying. The jump scares in this film are far more psychological and logical and pretty much none of them are the standard “Cat Scare” which have become so overdone in horror. The movie can actually be really relentless and my heart was pounding pretty hard in parts. The filmmakers obviously took a lot of care to go for a more literary horror than we’ve seen in bad horror movies in the past. Hooking us like fish, ratcheting up the tension and letting us go and then reeling us back into terror until finally we realize there’s no escape.
One of the things that I liked so much about the movie was the attention to detail. The production design was very intricate and most of the effects seemed to be practical instead of digital. I am not putting down CGI effects because a bad practical special effect can look just as hokey as a bad CGI one. This movie blended everything together pretty seamlessly but, as I well know, it can be easier to cover up flaws in the dark.
I would freely recommend this movie to anyone and everyone who enjoys horror movies and does not have a heart condition. I don’t know what I want to review next but it probably won’t be Victorian Horror. Probably.