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The Woman in Black - problems

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The Woman in Black - problems - 19/2/2012 12:09:33 PM   


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Joined: 19/2/2012
For me, Susan Hill's The Woman in Black remains the finest ghost story of recent times. It has fueled my imagination – not to mention, my writing – for three decades now and exemplifies how the ghost story genre is arguably the most effective form for exploring the human condition in all its manifestations and complexity. Like the highly celebrated works of MR James, Hill’s work evokes similar unease in the reader with a narrative full of barely-glimpsed horrors in often isolated locations.

In 1989, I was very excited to learn that Central TV was filming an adaptation to be broadcast on Christmas Eve; a broadcast date previously celebrated by the BBC with its memorable Ghost Story at Christmas strand.

Despite 30 plus years of watching the ghost story in all its celluloid adaptations, I have yet to find anything more skin-crawlingly terrifying. The subtle imagery of the magnificent Nigel Kneale screenplay, devastating in appearance and intensity, has never left me. Christmas 1989 reawakened my most primitive of fears: that there is something rather nasty lurking in the unexplored recesses of our mind - as if a house of locked rooms.

Fast forward to 2012 and I am again excited by the spectacle of viewing a new screenplay for The Woman in Black. I try to squash a niggling suspicion that despite the expected quality of a Hammer Production, it will never quite match up to what I consider TV’s scariest moment.

But with heavy heart, as the film progresses I find that this fear is realised.

“Open your mouth Daniel Radcliffe, open your mouth!” I’m not necessarily talking words here, just anything to add to the one-dimensional, wide-eyed consternation mode that the young actor lumbers around the screen with. Even the occasional voiceless utterance would imbue the performance with a sense of Kipps’ reactions to increasingly inauspicious surrounds. If this version wishes to focus on the intense suffering of the people of Crythin Grifford, then surely some of this should be sensed by Kipps whether he chooses to interpret events as a portent to get the hell out of the village (but bloody-mindedness and job conviction convinces him to stay); or as an open invitation to help these poor souls and solve a unique mystery. Neither of these reactions appears to fuel the protagonist’s reason for staying.

As for imagery, the clues are unimaginatively clustered and tend to overstate rather than underplay the hints of the horror to come. A number of scenes clumsily place The Woman central to her surrounds and feature an overuse of the literal. Compare the 1989 version where Pauline Moran's brief appearances as The Woman fill the whole film with a sense of doom and terror. She's seen in the background, almost out-of-focus, a few times. The leering, grimacing expression, white face and red eyes, on the rare occasions used, fill the screen. However, in the most recent direction, the antagonist is squarely placed in a cemetery, staring up at the house, in surroundings complete devoid of the most spectral of landscapes: the mist-smeared marshes. Thereafter, the woman makes frequent appearances but these appear designed more to encourage an audience to fear jumping out of its seats than the subtle art of leading the senses on a not so merry journey across an increasingly terrifying and inauspicious landscape.

Even the ending is a rather inelegant cop-out and manages to completely divert the flow of the movie, far too late for it to recover.

Spoilt by the book, the theatrical performance and the 1989 screenplay; is the 2012 version just a long line in the natural evolution of the subtle art of celluloid ghost story telling into a more hi octane mix for the younger generation? I hope not.
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RE: The Woman in Black - problems - 19/2/2012 12:44:46 PM   

Posts: 54399
Joined: 1/10/2005
Welcome to the site. 

Can we suggest you have a look around to see how things work before posting? For most films there will be an existing review thread in this sub-forum (if you can't see it, please use the search function). All reviews/discussion of the film should go in the existing thread.

On the off-change Empire haven't gotten round to posting a review through to the sub-forum, then there's no problem beginning a thread.


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