Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Ghoul Versus The Woman In Black

"Harry Potter: Where Are They Now? Part Two!"

Click here for Part One: The Apparition featuring Tom Felton!

The Woman In Black is a film based off a novella (a very short one, clocking in at not even 200 pages) written by Susan Hill in 1983. And what shouldn't be a surprise at all the film is actually a remake, although of a 1989 made for TV film and not a theatrical release. I briefly considered trying to track it down to do another Original Vs. Remake, but the DVD is WAY out of print and eBay prices are quite outrageous, so... no.

In something of a subversion for most films I review, I expect this one to be quite good as it was directed by James Watkins, a British filmmaker who EXCELS in psychological and realistic horror. He was responsible for 2008's Eden Lake, which I'll put up against any non-supernatural horror movie of the last decade.  Our next Harry Potter star is the man himself, Daniel Radcliffe. It appears he's going to go on to become one of the rare childhood stars that successfully transitions to adulthood without going ballistic, not to mention keeping his film career going by breaking out of being typecast.

Does he get off to a good start with his first non-Harry Potter movie? Or is this just Harry Potter grown up and battling ghosts? Time to hit the play button and find out, with A Ghoul Versus The Woman In Black!

In a first for this review blog, I want to point out one of the trailers that was on this blu-ray. It was for a movie called “Tonight You're Mine”, a movie about two musicians that hate each other who get handcuffed together at a huge music festival but OF COURSE fall in love at the end. ZANY! One of the musicians is played by Natalia Tena, who played Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter movies, so expect to see a review of this one go up someday. Or Hell, maybe I'll just review the trailer instead since it pretty much seemed to tell us the whole damn movie.

Onto the film proper, which opens with three little girls having a tea party with their dolls on the top floor of a house. They then proceed to open the window and jump out to their deaths, as calm and collected as can be. Yikes.  We cut to Arthur Kipps, played by Daniel Radcliffe who is one STYLISH mofo in this movie. It takes place in the early 1900s, and damn did the wardrobe department make GOOD use of their budget. Arthur's life sucks: his wife has passed away, he doesn't get to spend much time with his young son Joseph because he's always working, and yet still is drowning in debt despite being a lawyer.

The case he's currently working concerns Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House, who has recently passed away. His law firm wants him to travel to her estate in the small village of Crythin Griffin and put everything in order so the house can be sold, which will take him away from his son for another two days. However he plans to offset this by having his son and nanny meet with him in the village at the end of the week.  He travels there via train, and I respect Radcliffe a LOT so I'm not making a Hogwart's Express joke here. Even though I SO could. As he travels he reads an advertisement about a medium who does seances, which triggers a brief flashback of his wife Stella dying while giving birth to their son.

On the train he meets a man named Samuel Daily, who warns him he will NOT find a local buyer for the Eel Marsh House but doesn't say why. Arthur attempts to check into an inn, but finds his room was apparently never booked. The night clerk is quite short with him and says they're booked solid, but his wife takes one look at Arthur and says he can stay up in the attic. Logical, as who would kick out Mr. Dreamboat here?

Ohhhh, but the attic just happens to be the same attic from the beginning of the film where the girls committed suicide. A lesser filmmaker probably would have had a jarring flashback cut here just to make sure we got that. The next day is signaled by a GORGEOUS shot as Arthur walks through town to meet with his contact. We see the locals are very suspicious, as they all go out of their way to avoid him. The contact, a man named Jerome, hands him the paperwork and quickly tries to shoo him out of town. Arthur informs him there's much more paperwork at the house that he needs to go through and he'll be there for days, a response that horrifies Jerome and his wife.

Jerome says that's not possible as there's nowhere for Arthur to stay, instructing his driver Keckwick to take him back to the train station so he can return to London. Arthur bribes the driver to take him to Eel Marsh instead, and we're treated to some more lovely cinematography as they travel there.  Although, just ONCE I'd love to see a movie where a character picks up on the fact that if EVERYONE goes out of their way to avoid a place that maybe he should avoid it too. I know it wouldn't make for much of a movie, but before I die (again) I want to see that scene happen.

Arthur makes his way to the house, which I'd probably give a 7/10 on the Haunted House scale. As he goes to light a lamp in the downstairs area, the film does a CHEAP JUMP SCARE where some sludge LOUDLY pours out of a sink. Boooooooooooooooooooo!  He settles down in the study and gets to work going through the mountain of papers, finding the death certificate for Alice's son Nathaniel, who drowned in the nearby marsh at the age of seven but his body was never recovered.

A series of thuds from upstairs draw his attention, so he (of course) goes upstairs to check it out. He sloooooowly and quietly explores upstairs as I'm fully braced for another jump scare since the film has already set the bar for this crap. He finds a nest in an upstairs fireplace, where one of the little baby birds has fallen out. He gently puts the bird back in the nest when BANG! JUMP SCARE! The mama raven flies out of nowhere and is all “GOT YA! LULZ!”. I am so disappointed in this film right now.

Arthur goes to open the window, noticing a WOMAN IN BLACK standing far off in the distance. He goes outside looking for her, hearing a horse and a woman screaming. As the area is covered in thick layers of fog he is unable to find out where the noises are coming from, stumbling around in vain. I was half hoping he'd wind up in Silent Hill.  We get a brief shot of a man, a woman, and a young boy in a carriage stuck in the marsh, with the boy sinking to his death. Arthur wanders through the fog some more as JUMP SCARE there's Keckwick standing right behind him as creepy as possible. Three jump scares in about as many minutes, dammit movie you are REALLY trying my patience.

Back on the mainland, Arthur goes to the police to report the accident he heard. Naturally though, the constable on duty dismisses everything because no one has gone out to Eel Marsh in years. When Arthur mentions the Woman in Black, the constable leaves the room for some reason. Two young boys enter the station with their sister Victoria, who is very sick after drinking some lye. Arthur screams for help as she starts hacking up blood.

The next shot is of Arthur standing outside the home of the children as the mother cries in sorrow at the death of her daughter. The locals still go out of their way to avoid Arthur. The young lawyer goes to meet Samuel at his lavish estate, Samuel's wife Elisabeth inviting him to stay with them since he doesn't have a place at the inn. We quickly learn she's batshit insane, as she believes her dead son Nicholas can speak through her.  This leads to a bizarre scene where she tells Arthur that Nicholas wants to draw him a picture, taking a knife and starting to carve an image into the dining table before Samuel has to medicate her. Later that night Arthur goes to look at what she carved into the table, seeing it was an image of a hanged figure.

The next day Arthur and Samuel go to try to convince Jerome to help out with the paperwork, but find his house is apparently empty. They hear a noise downstairs, leading Arthur to (say it with me) go investigate. His search leads him to locked door, peering through a hole in it to see a bedroom. It's gotten quite quiet, so you just KNOW they're going to do a jump scare of someone suddenly jumping into frame via the peep hole and BANG! There it is! It's a little girl, screaming at Arthur that he killed Victoria and to get away from her. Creepy child telling the main character part of the film's plot cliché, check.

This movie is falling apart HARD. It's sad when your movie is more predictable than an Adam Sandler movie. The men leave, Arthur asking Samuel what the hell is going on. Samuel replies with “complete nonsense”, but before they can expound on that they find the road is blocked off by a near dozen of the villagers. It seems Victoria's father blames her death on Arthur because he saw the Woman in Black. Samuel drives past them, taking Arthur back to Eel Marsh.  Samuel says he'll come back for Arthur later that night, but Arthur says he'll just stay and work through the night because he's really not that smart. Samuel, who has been established in not believing in the supernatural at all, seems a bit shaken by this so leaves his dog Spider with Arthur to watch out for him.

Going about lighting the house up as brightly as possible so he can explore it further, Arthur finds a locked door upstairs that none of his keys open. Giving up, he moves on to Nathaniel's bedroom where he spots someone in the adjacent bathroom. He sloooooowly and quietly enters the bathroom, but of course it's empty. It's even jump scare free, which is great! Maybe we're finally done with that bull- AHH JUST KIDDING! Next scene is a jump scare where he sees a woman's face behind a lamp that vanishes when he looks up.

Arthur, as sick and tired of jump scares as I am, goes back to work but this doesn't last long as he's distracted by Spider barking at something outside the house. He follows the dog to Nathaniel's grave site, where we get a brief glimpse of the Woman in Black watching him.  Uh oh, it sure has gotten quiet. Arthur examines the other graves in the area, finding one for Alice's sister Jennet Humfrye. Making a note of this he returns to the house, where he spots the Woman in Black watching him from a window on the upstairs level.

I gotta be honest here, 46 minutes in and I am freaking tired of this movie. It has an off the charts creepy atmosphere when it's not resorting to cheap ass jump scares, it looks like a million bucks, and the acting is fantastic but this is just Cliche Central. Hero hears a noise, goes to investigate by sloooooowly and quietly walking down a dark hallway, jump scare, hero sees something, goes to investigate by sloooooowly and quietly walking down a dark hallway, jump scare, lather, rinse, repeat. I REALLY expected better from a James Watkins movie.

Arthur goes upstairs to the window where he saw her, but of course she's gone. He sloooooowly and quietly looks around when BANG! JUMP SCARE! Her reflection briefly appears next to him but when he turns around she's gone. Good God STOP IT! If I wanted to watch Paranormal Activity I'd watch Paranormal Activity!  Arthur goes back to work AGAIN and it strikes me if he didn't spend every five minutes chasing a jump scare he could have finished by now and been home to see his son already. He finds a series of letters Jennet wrote to Alice, learning Alice had her sister declared mentally unfit so she could take her son and raise him as her own. The letter ends with Jennet warning Alice that Nathaniel will “never be hers”.  HOLY CRAP 48 minutes into the movie and something actually happened!

The next letter has Jennet blasting Alice for letting her son drown in the marsh without even attempting to save him, but saving herself instead. She signs it “I will never forgive you. Rot in Hell.”. Arthur finds Jennet's Certificate of Death, discovering she hung herself in Eel Marsh's nursery.  Then... sigh... he hears a noise upstairs and blah blah slowly down a dark hallway blah blah, ends up at the locked door where the noise gets louder and louder. He still can't open the door so goes downstairs to grab an ax to hack his way in, but when he gets back upstairs the door is wide open.

Because he's so smart he enters, finding an empty rocking chair rocking by itself. I also believe the soundtrack guy got a little confused, because AFTER showing the chair we get a “BOOM!” jump scare sound effect for no reason whatsoever. He tries to make up for it by doing a mini jump scare sound effect when Arthur opens a cabinet, but too little too late buddy! Arthur notices the wallpaper in the room is peeling, tearing it away to reveal a wall with “YOU COULD HAVE SAVED HIM” written on it in what I assume is blood.

Arthur takes this all in, as I got so caught up reading the words I didn't realize how quiet it's become so the movie makes me pay for it with a JUMP SCARE as a toy monkey goes off. FUCK YOU MOVIE. Arthur looks out a window, as it's now raining. He sees a figure rise up out of the marsh and start walking towards the house. Lightning flashes, illuminating a handprint on the window. As he goes to touch it... absolutely NOTHING happens. Hahah, just kidding. JUMP SCARE! The movie has now degraded itself to ripping off YouTube scare videos.

Spider barking downstairs alerts Arthur, as someone is knocking on the door. Arthur briefly redeems himself by asking “who's there?” as the doorknob starts turning instead of just opening the door like I expected him too, but this just makes the turning stop. It gets really quiet as the camera holds on the still doorknob then BANG! JUMP SCARE! That is now TEN jump scares for those of you playing at home. I am no longer recapping this movie unless something actually happens.  Arthur opens the door but instead of finding Swamp Thing standing there wanting to borrow a cup of sugar, the porch is empty. But looking into the woods he sees all of the dead children from the film staring at him, so he ducks back into the house. Boy, bet he really wishes he had Samuel come and get him now, eh?

Inside the house he notices a series of footprints leading upstairs, and honestly what's the movie's end game here? It's VERY obvious Jennet has become a demonic ghost hellbent on revenge upon the living by killing their kids. Arthur knows this too, and that all the supernatural stuff is real. This entire movie has been setup, but hasn't once done anything to setup any kind of resolution. This ISN'T a Silent Hill game, Arthur isn't going to grab his trusty hunting rifle and shoot the shit out of Jennet. He's just aimlessly wandering around from jump scare to jump scare and we still have half an hour left. Ugh.

Arthur follows the footprints BACK UPSTAIRS AGAIN for Jump Scares #11 and #12, then runs downstairs for Jump Scare #13 in the form of Samuel, who has come to pick him up as it's now morning. They drive back to town, Samuel not believing any of Arthur's story. Arriving in town they find Jerome's house is on fire, with his daughter Lucy still trapped inside. Arthur recklessly runs in to save her, because I guess the movie FINALLY remembered a character should like, do, things.

Inside the room he finds Lucy calmly standing amidst the flames, Jennet standing on the other side of the room watching her. The vengeful spirit makes Lucy burn herself to death, much to Arthur's horror. Back at Samuel's, Elisabeth talks to Arthur about Jennet, revealing that every time she's been seen a child dies. Oh, and today just happens to be Friday when Arthur's son is set to join him.  Elisabeth starts doing that creepy “speaking in two voices at once” thing as she channels her son, telling Arthur how Jennet makes the kids kill themselves. Elisabeth starts carving a picture again, this one of Arthur's son Joseph arriving via train. That 1h11m of an hour and a half movie, we FINALLY have a plot. Repeat: we finally have a plot!

Arthur and Samuel race to the telegraph office so Arthur can send a telegraph to his nanny to tell her NOT to bring Joseph to see him. How do they know Jennet can't kill him in London? How do they know what the range of her powers is? They arrive at the telegraph office, but it has burned down. Arthur reasons that if they can reunite Jennet with her son then perhaps she'll be at peace and he'll be able to save his own son. Damn! A ticking clock, characters making plans to achieve goals, this almost feels like a movie now or something!

Samuel reminds him that Nathaniel's body was never found, but Arthur has the idea he'll go diving in the marsh around the area Nathaniel drowned and have Samuel pull the carriage out with his car. This is a pretty practical idea that works, Arthur finding Nathaniel's body still in the vehicle.  Instead of immediately going about burying the body, Arthur takes the time to return to the house and clean up which seems rather stupid because of the massive ticking clock we have going on. But I guess we couldn't keep covering up that beautiful face of Radcliffe's with swamp sludge, could we?

Burying Nathaniel doesn't seem to be his plan though, as Arthur puts the body in the nursery so he can “reunite” him with his mother. Burying would LITERALLY do that, mate! This draws Jennet into the room for a couple of uberlame jump scares and then she leaves. Oh...kay? Arthur concludes this got rid of Jennet based off of absolutely nothing, so he and Samuel go on to open Jennet's tomb and place Nathaniel next to his mother.

They drive away as we return to the house for a montage tour of the house where we can hear Jennet chanting “never forgive” over and over. Uh oh. Joseph and the nanny arrive at the train station, Arthur elated to see his son. He tells the nanny they're going back to London straightaway, saying goodbye to Samuel. HOWEVER as they talk Joseph gets that “Jennet is talking to me” look on his face and starts walking towards the train tracks. We get all slow motion-y as Arthur glances over and sees Jennet, then sees Joseph walking on the train tracks towards a train.

He runs to save his son but the train takes them both out. Hold on, or does it? We see Arthur holding Joseph, but now the train station is empty and in dark muted tones. They turn around to see Stella standing there, everyone smiling and happy as they hold hands and walk into the fog.

“Our son was brutally murdered by a ghost!  We're all dead!  YAYYYYY!”

Jennet watches them go, contemplating how this is the second straight Daniel Radcliffe movie to end with him and his family at a train station, then looks directly at US. To the film's very, very, VERY faint credit she doesn't jump out at us. I would have bet a million dollars she was going to.

Cue the credits.

Seriously? That's what we're going with? THAT?! Dammit, this is why you should NEVER have high expectations for any movie, especially one that you've heard is good. This movie has gotten almost universal praise from what I've read... HOW? Were all the reviewers easily startled little kids?

The ending, while a stupid cheating copout, isn't even the big issue here. As a matter of fact, I pretty much expected it as EVERY film James Watkins has wrote or directed featured the main character(s) dying in the end. Oh, spoilers or something...  No, the big issue is this is barely even a movie! Half this movie is “Daniel Radcliffe slowly walks down a dark hallway and looks around a dark room in search of his next jump scare”! Hell, half? Let's go with 75%. I really hate to say it, but this movie reminded me a LOT of the Apparition and that's one of the worst things I can say about ANY movie.

Both movies are an hour of idiots wasting our time in a house that's OBVIOUSLY haunted but they just keep stretching it out with jump scares because a movie has to be at least eighty minutes to legally be a movie. The idiots then FINALLY realize what's going so they cook up a rather nonsensical plan to stop the haunting that appears it work, but SURPRISE! It doesn't and they get killed. I know that's actually a lot of horror movies, but it's just weird watching it unfold back to back in films featuring former Harry Potter stars.

The jump scares... my goodness the jump scares. They are without a doubt the LOWEST FORM OF HORROR, abused by hack filmmakers for decades in lieu of any kind of creativity or real scares. I DESPISE them because they're not scary, just really annoying loud noises that startle you after the movie lulls you into a false sense of security.

That's not to say they can't be effective, as some of best horror movies in the Ghoul Hall of Fame have used them to great effect. Psycho, Jaws, Carrie, the original Friday The 13th... pretty much any classic horror movie that had the novel idea of having a HUGE buildup to a SINGLE jump scare, making it actually scary.  Jump scares every five minutes from the instant the title card pops up AREN'T scary. All they serve is to piss you off more and more until you just give up on the movie and start playing Angry Birds on your phone. And DAMN did this movie have me doing that.

Daniel Radcliffe gave a better performance that Tom Felton did in the Apparition, but that's not fair because Felton's character had NOTHING to do. Radcliffe carried this entire movie on his shoulders, infusing it with the only ounce of humanity it had. A lesser actor playing Arthur probably would have turned this into one of the worst movies of all time, so at least Radcliffe can hold his head up high knowing his future looks to be very bright. Unlike this movie. HAW HAW!

It's just unfortunate his talents were wasted on such a clichéd film that substituted jump scares for creativity.  Stay far away from this one.