At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Woman in Black “2012”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Woman in Black “2012”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Gothic Supernatural Horror/Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam, Tim McMullan, Jessica Raine, Daniel Cerqueira, Shaun Dooley, Mary Stockley, David Burke, Sophie Stuckey, Misha Handley, Aoife Doherty, Victor McGuire, Alexia Osborne, Alisa Khazanova, Ashley Foster, Sidney Johnston/Runtime: 95 minutes

I think it’s safe to start this review off, as I sit here in the dark in my living room typing away whilst a light yet cool and refreshing breeze blows in from the open window, by letting you all in on something that I know I have mentioned before. That being that I genuinely do love a good ghost story. Indeed be it, among other vital ingredients,  the ominous locations they often take place in, the suggestion that there might be more to this world than we can see let alone comprehend, the chills that delightfully go down my spine more than once, or even the fact that I find myself, with the really good ones at least, pulling up the covers just a wee bit tighter than I would otherwise before heading off to sleep there is no denying the impact that one of these stories can have on a person’s psyche let alone desire to sleep with the door closed. With that in mind though, I do find myself wondering just why in the world it is so difficult for the land of movie magic to conjure up a ghost story that sends the same chill that one on paper can muster up with a fairly significant degree of ease. To be sure, there are at the very least a few reasons for why I think this is the case. One is that the majority of spooky cinema has an unhealthy obsession for utilizing the infamous jump scare in such a way that it constantly tests the definition of overkill. Another is that although some horror cinema has shown excellent skill at prioritizing this, the fact is that most entries in this distinct genre of movie magic would much rather drench the screen with as much visceral content (blood, guts, and other things) as possible rather than try to give us first and foremost a genuinely spooky atmosphere before anything else. Finally, the last reason that I can think of is that if there is one lesson that cinema, with a particular regard for horror films, seems to consistently be relearning time and time again it would be that what is scarier for an audience sometimes isn’t what you see on screen, but rather what you don’t since the power of imagination is often the most terrifying thing of all. Of course, with those in mind, it should be noted that just because the land of movie magic doesn’t consistently give movie goers wonderfully good examples of this distinct type of terror doesn’t mean that’s always the case. In fact, I think the film I am reviewing for you today, 2012’s The Woman in Black, is definitely an underrated example of this kind of spooky story done fairly well. To be sure, this slice of cinema is by no means perfect nor would I even think to tell you that. With that in mind though, there is no denying that with the aid of dependably good work on both sides of the camera, the 2012 take on The Woman in Black is a delightfully spooky 90-minute film that definitely makes for a quick and easy yet capably made sit that you are sure to enjoy being fairly chilled to the bone by time and time again.

The plot is as follows: An adaptation of a 1983 novel of the same name by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black “2012” gets its spooky tale underway by taking us to the small village of Crythin Gifford where we witness a sight that is actually, for all intents and purposes, fairly ordinary. That being the time-honored image of a trio of young girls playing with their dolls and having an imaginary tea time. Yet as idyllic and quaint as this sight is to our eyes as movie goers, we see that it isn’t long before a wrench of pure terror is thrown at it. A wrench incidentally that takes the shape and form of these three young girls standing up, walking to their window (and smashing their beautiful toys to pieces in the process), opening the window, and then all three proceeding to jump from it as if they were just ordered to do so as simply as one might tell you to clean your room or to come downstairs for dinner. From there, the film takes us ahead in time and place to London in the long-ago year of 1910 where we quickly meet our main character, and unknowing guide through this tale of terror, Arthur Kripps. Mr. Kripps, as we soon learn, is a lawyer by trade yet who lately (for reasons I shan’t spoil here) has seemingly been more focused on his home life with a particular emphasis on raising his young son Joseph whom he loves more than anything else in this world. Yet as noble as this might seem, there are some that take a wee bit of an issue with it with the key group being no less than the law office that Arthur is (somehow) still an employee of, but who have quickly reached their wit’s end with the young man. Thus, we soon see that our hero is given one last chance to prove that he still wishes to be employed by his current employer. A chance that involves him visiting the village that we were in at the beginning and do what we can to find and bring back any important documents left behind by the recently passed on owner of a desolate yet fairly decent size estate known as Eel Marsh so his employer can finally begin making arrangements to sell the house off. Upon his arrival however, we see that not only does our hero discover that his lodging reservation has mysteriously vanished, but also that most of the townsfolk don’t really seem all that keen on having him there at best and at worst just would rather he go back to jolly ol’ London at once. Undeterred however, we see that Arthur soon makes his way to Eel Marsh and swiftly begins his assigned task. In doing so however, we see that our hero will soon do more than just earn the ire of the good townsfolk. Rather, he will also find himself coming face to face with the properties of terror in a way that will expose him to a long-buried secret. One that, should he wish to protect himself and those he holds dear, he will have to get to the bottom of no matter what the cost…..

Now right off, I will say that the work done behind the camera on this spooky saga is not bad all things considered. To be sure, the film does engage with the typical tropes for this specific type of film. With that in mind though, what distinguishes this slice of cinema from others that are guilty of the same thing is that this one is both crafted fairly well and even manages to be genuinely chilling at points (something the seat I sat in whilst watching this may or may not be able to attest to). This starts with the really good work done by James Watkins at the helm. Indeed not only does Watkins helm this slice of cinema with such a wonderful degree of reverence to the gothic horror sagas of ol’ (a fact that also can be attributed to iconic horror production company Hammer being one of the companies behind this), but he also brings to play an atmosphere in this that, right from the word go, brings just the right degree of ominous dread and then makes sure that, even in the quieter moments where things aren’t going bump in the night, not to let up until the credits have begun to roll all whilst ensuring that the melancholic tone and performances by the cast of players are able to function as intended. Along with the good work by Watkins in the director’s chair, I also think praise should be given to production designer Kave Quinn. Indeed not only does Quinn do a terrific job at drenching this entire film in an wonderfully appropriate ominous period-style right down to a color palette that feels like what one would see more so on a blotch-streaked body, but also in making the main house at the heart of this spooky saga one that is equal parts rundown, desolate, decrepit, and just the right hint of foreboding in equal measure. Perhaps the key area though where Quinn deserves the most praise is in regard to a sequence set in a nursery full of period-appropriate wind-up toys that, to kids of the era might have seemed like fun amusements, but in this film’s hands turn into ominous harbingers that when they start going off you won’t be surprised to feel the hairs on the back of your neck begin standing up on end. Finally, I also think that praise should be given to the work done by cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones. Indeed not only does Jones do terrific at reinforcing the atmosphere of the film, but he also manages to do some truly impressive work at ensuring the effects still work as intended even when having to operate with very limited lighting at times. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in a really good and fitting musical accompaniment from Marco Beltrami, it’s clear that what you are given here in terms of behind the camera work is very much a chillingly delightful throwback in every sense of the word.

Of course, the other big element that helps work in this slice of spooky cinema’s favor would have to be the dependably good work given by the talented cast of players in front of the camera. Without question, this starts with really solid work done by Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role. Indeed in his first starring role in the aftermath of his iconic tenure as a certain famous boy wizard with a rather curious-looking facial scar, we see that Radcliffe was very much ready to put that time in his career in the proverbial backburner and move on to performances that might have more of an “adult audience”. Yes, there is no denying that, in the role of Arthur Kripps, Radcliffe at the time might have appeared to be a bit too young to portray a man who is all but consumed by his own inner grief. Even so, we see that Radcliffe does a great job to show that he definitely has the skill to take on this character to say nothing of the key emotion that is consistently gnawing away at him to the point that even before he enters the haunted manor he already looks both anguished and tormented in equal measure. Alongside the solid work done by Radcliffe in the lead role, we see that this slice of cinema also backs him up with a pair of fairly strong support performances from the always dependable Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer respectively. Indeed in regards to the former, we see that Hinds does a solid job at playing a genuinely good and decent man who finds himself unable (or unwilling) to believe in the otherworldly for reasons I shan’t spoil here only to chillingly find his eyes being opened through assisting Radcliffe’s Kripps with his assignment. As for McTeer, we see that she too does a chillingly good job as a grief-stricken woman who, try as hard as she might, always seems like she is always one step away from descending entirely into madness (or is she?). Indeed if there is really any issue that I have with the work done in front of the camera, it would have to be that by and large the people who call Crythin Gifford home aren’t exactly the best written collection of characters in the world. This is an issue because in other movies of a similar creepy ilk like the ORIGINAL (have to make that clear) Wicker Man and even An American Werewolf in London among others, the village where things are occurring has more than its share of intriguing individuals to help liven things up to an extent. In this slice of cinema however, we see that aside from the pair of co-starring individuals I mentioned, no one else in the community really made that much of an impression like perhaps they could have had their characters been a bit more on the better-written side. Suffice it to say therefore that there might be some issues with the work on this side of the camera, but the work done by Radcliffe, Hinds, and McTeer certainly do their best to help to make up for it.

All in all and at the end of the day, is the 2012 take on The Woman in Black a perfect slice of cinema? Absolutely not! Not even close. With that in mind, is this the worst cinematic ghost story since Bill Cosby became a Ghost Dad in 1990, 1999’s slap in the face adaptation of The Haunting, or even 2015’s The Gallows? Thankfully I can say that is also not the case either. If anything, this spooky slice of cinema is one that, despite a lot of people out there might not exactly being onboard with the idea of making a Gothic horror film in the vein of something like 1961’s The Innocents into a film that present-day movie goers will love and embrace with open arms, there can be no denying is one slice of cinema that is able to buck the odds and become the most remarkable kind of cinematic product possible. That being both a delightfully spooky cinematic adaptation of an iconic ghost story and also a more than potent slice of horror cinema that thankfully doesn’t come with the usual CGI or buckets of blood that a lot of other horror films nowadays think they need in order to work. Suffice it to say that whilst there might be those of you out there who are not completely on board with the slow-burn, atmosphere-driven, and nuanced style that this slice of cinema chooses to operate with, I promise that the classic horror aficionados amongst you will find more than a wee bit to enjoy and appreciate here. Thus no 2012’s take on The Woman in Black might not be a perfect film by any stretch, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself glancing into the darkness while you’re trying to sleep after the movie is over. Not because you want to test your night vision, but because you thought you heard something and you want to make sure that it was just the wind because if it wasn’t…..then what pray tell could it have been? Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Woman in Black “2012” a solid 3.5 out of 5.