Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Woman in Black. (2012) James Watkins

a Classic haunted house story for October Chillers.

A friend who follows FILMSWEEP recently wrote on his Facebook wall: "It's easy to shock. It's much harder to genuinely disturb. Good horror should aim for the latter."  He was putting into words my general stance on horror, the chill I enjoy as it inches down my spine.

The Woman in Black is a classic Victorian ghost story that kind of fits into this line of thinking. It's not a perfect film -- few are -- but it's a well-crafted gothic thriller that combines extended sequences of spine chilling haunt with jump scares that getcha, and a decent story to boot. It's a fine film with an eerie edge suited for adults and teens to revel in together.

Some of the best moments happen with one lone Realtor in a large, empty and cobwebbed mansion. He needs to go thru all the paperwork he can find there and sell the place very soon. His boss has laid out the facts quite easily to him: sell the property, and fast, or lose your employment with the firm. A widower and a father with obvious concerns about keeping his job, he needs to do whatever he can to get the place sold, to keep food on the table for himself and his boy.

After a few initial spooks on his first visit to the house, which he wrongfully dismisses as imagination, he returns to the place (a chilling trip in itself) to finish his work and spend the night. At which my first question comes up: Are you freaking nuts, dude? Why the hell are you spending a night alone in this cold and creepy mansion which is unquestionably haunted? Do you like the cold sweats? Do you want to pee your pants?

And I'll tell you one thing for certain -- one thing beyond a doubt -- this guy sure stayed in that house a lot longer than I ever could.

In that place, in the dark with only his candles and oil lamps to light the way, he discovers a ghost, maybe two, maybe twenty -- and then a curse, which gets him in big trouble. He has a night of terror in scenes which go on and on, and they are the most fun you can have outside an actual trip to a haunted house.

The scenes of him alone at night in this place, reading letters from the deceased, and getting terrorized by them later are thrilling horror, the kind that starts in subtlety and ends in sheer panic. These scenes go on for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, and had The Woman in Black been a short film with only this, it may have been the best short film made this year.

It's too bad that when the story leaves the mansion and deals with the curse, and the townspeople, and their children that it derails just a bit. It falls into a story that makes little sense, although it retains its gothic power again later on a return trip to the mansion's marsh to dig up a corpse.

I do love a good ghost story -- and The Woman in Black has some excellent scenes -- but it falls just a bit short when using logic to tie up its loose ends.

Still, this is good fodder for October viewing. And cruelly fun, in its ghostly and classical ways.

Watch this film with the lights out. Maybe light a candle and an oil lamp, too.

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