Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: The Woman in Black


James Watkins' The Woman in Black opened last weekend, coming in second in terms of sales, but the reviews do not seem to me as good as they should be.  This strengthens my impression that many movie goers, unfortunately, do not want genuine, classic horror.  I do, however, and I am relieved when a film I was hoping would not be the typical horror drek rises above the level of crap.  In this case, the film adaptation of  Susan Hills' novel that had gone on to an incredibly successful life on the stage and then a made-for-TV version, does far more than that.  As a period piece, as a ghost story, as a film, it succeeds on every level.  Acting, writing, sets, costumes, special effects, and cinematography -- all excellent.  I wish I could remember more about the sound, but the fact that it faded seamlessly into the experience is probably a good sign.  Scary, psychologically sophisticated and with a depth of thought that lingers after the viewing experience, this deserves to stand with the best ghost films made so far.

Now, to the Hammer in the middle of the room: Yes, Hammer Films came back in 2010 with Let Me In,  the English language remake of Let the Right One In.  It is heresy with many of my friends, but I liked Hammer's version better than the Swedish original.  Well, now with The Woman in Black, they are not just back, but they have outdone their historic legacy of horror and produced an atmospheric work of art, a tour-de-force of dread with moments of genuine fear -- not to be confused with mere shock or disgust.  Everyone involved is to be congratulated.

If you are the kind of film fan who is not bored by the pace it takes to build real horror, then reward yourself with this dark feast.  Yes, fans of the book, there are some changes so let the film stand on its own feet.  I, however, found the questions raised by the film's ending to provide the lingering pleasure due to reflections on human nature and the human condition.  Longing, grief, dread, fear, hate, revenge, and, yes, love.  The more I think about it, the more I suspect that there is an implied theology behind the film, the tension between two interpretations of the ending, and the interpretation that I think is most likely within the confines of the story, aside from a structural element that makes some viewers choose the other interpretation.  And the more likely interpretation also is, in my view, the strongest.  Very abstract, I know, but I'm not going to spoil here.  It's worth working it out on your own.

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