Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Subtle Scares of The Woman in Black

Last night, I finally got around to watching The Woman in Black. I say finally, because I'm not sure what took me so long! I'm a fan of Hammer movies and haunted house movies in general. That and nearly everyone I chat with online has recommended it to me!

Now that I've finally seen the movie, I'd like to discuss it with all of you who probably saw it awhile back. I'll also share an interview and a behind the scenes video. For anyone who hasn't seen The Woman in Black, I don't want to spoil anything. So I won't go into specific plot details. Here are the basics: Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young widowed father who works as a lawyer. He is required to take care of some last minute estate business at a creepy haunted mansion that happens to be in the world's most unfriendly town. It turns out that the townspeople have good reason to be miserable, but they're still pretty awful. I was wondering if the inevitable ghost would be as bad as the townsfolk!

Of course the ghost is unpleasant. I won't be giving much away by saying that she is a woman in black. She wears what might be described as Victorian mourning clothing, which keeps her pretty obscured and mysterious throughout the film. You only ever see a hint of her face. Overall, I liked how subtle the movie was. The ghost provides little hints of movement out of the corner of your eye or bits of shadows passing a mirror. Seriously, this movie is only for people with good eyesight.

So many modern horror movies throw violence and loud noises at the viewer, so the subtle moments were refreshing. I remember writing my Halloween blog post last October, which was filled with subtle things that terrify me. I came to realize that shadowy hands reaching out of the darkness or narrative songs didn't do as much for everyone. So I understand that different things scare different people.

Still, I think most people would agree that they felt some wonderfully uncomfortable anticipation during the movie. There was some serious tension being built up. Sometimes the tension led to nothing, like when our main character senses something and follows his hunch all the way around the house to a room where there's... nothing. I was reminded of a moment in a Simpson's Halloween Special, when Lisa is reading Poe's "The Raven" and gets to the part where there's "Darkness there, and nothing more". Bart says "You know what would have been scarier than nothing? ANYTHING!" Yeah, there were a few moments like that. On the other hand, seeing nothing sometimes drove home the point that the house was haunted. Isn't the scary part of ghost stories that you can't see what's looking at you?

Daniel Radcliffe did a great job, especially considering that he was the only person in many of the scenes and had to use his own imagination to be afraid. He reacted the way most people would in response to noises and shadows, except for when he followed them. I don't think my first impulse to hearing a loud noise in a dark house would be to go upstairs and check it out. Although, a movie about a person who just sat downstairs in denial while all Hell broke loose upstairs, would not be very exciting.

Speaking of denial, I'm reminded of the "Daily" character played by Ciaran Hinds, one of the few nice acting people in the unfriendly town. Daily had as many reasons to be unfriendly and afraid as anyone else in this movie, but his denial of the supernatural is basically what held him together.

Under the scares, there are some interesting messages in The Woman in Black. I was left thinking about how the different characters dealt with loss and the many forms those feelings can take. I thought about how the belief in the paranormal and the afterlife can change a person's actions. I also wondered about the ghost's motivations. The Woman in Black was probably more sad than scary for me overall, but as I said before, there was some serious tension brewing!

The scenery in this movie was pure Hammer. The old house was beautifully decayed, with layers of funk over the old jewel toned walls. Thick fog covered the trees and crooked grave markers in front of the house.

The movie was incredibly classy looking, aside from what I felt was one cheap trick thrown in near the end. I thought the ghost should be presented differently, when we finally get to see her up close.

For those who have seen this movie, do you think the ending was happy, sad, or both? It felt kind of bittersweet to me, but I did have a sense of closure with the ghost. 

Here are those extra bits I mentioned earlier. I ran into an interview with the author of The Woman in Black and the screenwriter of the movie.

Touched by evil: Susan Hill and Jane Goldman on what inspired The Woman in Black.

There are some really interesting parts in that interview about the inspiration for the story, revenge, and sympathy for the ghost. I felt some sympathy for the ghost too, even while finding what she was doing despicable. 

I thought this was a nice little behind the scenes video with a few interview clips:

For those who would like to relive some of the scarier parts of the movie, here's a series of video clips from The Woman in Black:

If you haven't seen this movie I recommend it, and if you have seen it, let me know what you thought of it!

One more thing! It would be fun to connect with those of you who use Tumblr. I just started a page there as a place to store some of my favorite images. I know some people use the site as a blog, but my page is more of a gallery with no words. You can find my Tumblr page here: Justine's Halloween Tumblr Page or you can always click on these eyes on the side of my blog:


  1. I've mentioned to you before that I found this movie very creepy. In fact, I can't remember the last time I was so tense watching a film. It's not like I didn't know what was coming either because I've read the novel and seen the 1989 television production of 'The Woman in Black'. I guess fear is a very individual thing, and this movie triggers it in me in a way that many other movies don't.

    To me the end is bittersweet, although I can't decide on the ghost's motivation. Is she doing him a favour or did it backfire on her. The ending in the book is completely different and to me, extremely disturbing.

    I felt sympathy for the woman who became the ghost, but as a ghost, I think she's just an entity of hate and rage that can't be reasoned with, particularly in the book.

  2. I just noticed those eyes as I was reading through the post and thought to myself 'I didn't know Justine had a tumblr!' I'm going to add you as soon as I'm done here!

    For me this film didn't really live up to my expectations. Ghost films are my favourite kind of horror and after watching the original Woman in Black I kind of knew what to expect from this remake.. but they were totally different! This new one was far less scary and left me feeling rather disappointed!

    Don't get me wrong, I loved the sets, props and the atmosphere, they were beyond perfect, I also loved seeing Daniel Radcliff without a wand in his hand but the actual build up of anticipation throughout the movie, seeing glimpses of the Woman in Black in windows, mirrors and peoples fear of her, I'd expected her to look far more scary than she did and anticipated a more climatic ending! The ending kind of.. drifted along slowly.. like a ghost.

    I guess I'm saying I preferred the original films plot and woman in black but I preferred the set, props and atmosphere or the remake! ~ ♥ ~

  3. It's so funny you should write a post about this movie-Will and I just watched it a few months ago. I think it started off very promising, but we were starting to get bored near the end. (Now that I think about it, I'm, not 100% sure we saw the ending. At any rate, I don't remember it).

  4. I loved the film - mostly because I love older style horror movies. I enjoy watching this one over and over, simply because I'm gathering decorating ideas! LOL

    Now that Little Gothic Horrors has mentioned that the book has a totally different ending, I think I may need to read it. :o)

  5. Little Gothic Horrors ~ I've been looking forward to discussing this movie with you! Creepy is a good word. I often felt that something might be creeping around the corners of the screen, waiting to jump out. I thought a fine job was done on the settings. All those little toy monkeys and dolls peering out of the darkness added a lot. The suspense was outstanding.

    The way I saw it, the ghost felt she was doing him a favor. He did after all just reunite her with her son. Well, symbolically anyway. It's sad that it actually felt like she was doing him a favor. I know that's a dark thing to say, but it felt like the first somewhat positive thing to happen for him!

    Now I'm curious about the book's ending. Do you recommend reading it? It sounds like the ghost is less sympathetic in the book. I see what you're saying. Her circumstances as a living woman were very sad, but as a ghost she might just exist as a collection of negative energy repeating the same dreadful things over and over. I would like to believe that her pattern was somehow broken at the end of the film.

    Bella Morte ~ Thanks! I just followed your Tumblr page too. It looks like you've collected some great stuff! I look forward to paging through it all. I haven't been on Tumblr all that long, but so far I'm enjoying it.

    Unlike a lot of people, I went into watching The Woman in Black with no background information. I hadn't read the book or seen any other version of the movie. I heard there is a stage version of the story, and I'm curious about how that's put together. Anyway, I didn't have much to compare this against or reason to expect anything. The movie made me feel tense more than afraid. I had sort of a sense of dread, but then not much came of it.

    I think my imagination had cooked up something pretty horrific by the time the ghost finally did appear, so that was a let down. Sounds like that was your experience too! I would have preferred the whole room just going black after the hallway got progressively darker. The hallway thing was cool with me, though! What was not cool was the ghost looking like some cheesy Halloween prop being pulled along on a skateboard...

    I got a laugh out of your comment about seeing "Daniel Radcliffe without a wand in his hand" :) He was looking really good in this! I never found him attractive before. He should totally stick with that turn of the century sideburns look.

    I'm with you on the setting and props in the house. A lot of thought was put into those details!

    Marisa ~ There were some parts in the middle of the movie that dragged on. For me, those moments happened when Daniel Radcliffe's character had been staying in the house for a while. There was a lot of thumping and shuffling about while he wanders around staring down hallways. I guess that was a way of showing that the house was stressing him out, but I could have done without some of that. I think you'd remember the ending if you saw it, so you guys must have fallen asleep by then! You can always watch a clip of the ending online. I ran into that along with quite a few other parts on YouTube last night.

    Insomniac's Attic ~ It's so funny that you mention the decorating ideas, because I thought of you and your house at some points! Obviously, your house is clean and freshly decorated, so I don't mean the deteriorating aspects of the house. :) I mean the jewel tones, antiques, and horn decorations. I was watching the interior of the house thinking "I know someone who'd like this". :)

    I'm curious about the book's ending as well. Although, I'm almost afraid to read it if it's "extremely disturbing"!

  6. I'm another who hasn't seen it yet and I've read mixed reviews. Have you seen Wakewood? I really enjoyed that film from Hammer Productions.


  7. Well Justine, although the house isn't deteriorating at the moment, I wouldn't go so far as to call it clean! :D

    So who's going to read it first and decide whether it's too disturbing for the other to read? You or me? LOL

  8. Ali ~ Oh! Then don't read any of the previous comments! :) No, I haven't seen Wakewood. What is that movie about? I'm going to assume that as a Hammer movie it has a paranormal plot.

    Insomniac's Attic ~ Haha! I'll bet it's a heck of a lot cleaner than the house in The Woman in Black. :)

    Oh, you might beat me to it! I've always thought it would be fun to have an internet book club, but I'm not sure of how that could be set up. I suppose it could be as simple as writing a book review and having people leave their thoughts in the comments!

  9. Yes, I'd definitely recommend the book, although I felt kind of uneasy after finishing it. (It's quite a short novel, by the way.) I won't give away the ending, of course, but the book is quite different in that it starts at a future date and Arthur is recalling the events of his youth. He is not a widowed father, but an ambitious, young lawyer with a fiance when he goes to Eel Marsh House.

    You get a little more background on the woman who became the ghost and there's definitely sympathy for her, but there is also a fundamental plot difference that gives the ghost a darker tone. At least, I think so. :) I think she's more cruel in the book.

    I found the movie creepy because I was always on edge wondering when she would appear lurking in a corner, or in a mirror, or at a window.

  10. Little Gothic Horrors ~ I got the sense from some of the author's interviews that she mostly writes short stories. Have you read any of her other work?

    Those sound like some pretty big differences! Without the widowed father part, it's hard to imagine why Arthur would keep working at the house. I guess that whole ambition thing might be a part of his motivation. :) Still, that's some ambition!

    I'm not even sure if I'd use the word "cruel" to describe the ghost in the movie. I'd use the word "furious" though! It's weird to not think of her as cruel. I guess I see what she does as a knee jerk reaction to her own intense grief and anger. Also, I'm not sure if we're supposed to think her mental illness carried over into the afterlife. Assuming she really was mentally ill to begin with! I was left questioning that. I'm sure these details are better explained in the book.

    Yes, the ghost definitely made her way around the house! I liked the parts where you'd see a bit of her pass by a mirror across the room.

  11. This movie had lots of tense moments when the lady just all of a sudden appeared. They threw in the scary music to go with it and added a very creepy house on an eerie little island. I did enjoy the movie.

  12. Julie ~ Yeah, I'd say those little glimpses of the woman in black along with the jumpy sound effects were some of the scarier parts! I watched some of the dark night scenes in the house along with the commentary from the screenwriter and director. It was interesting to hear what they were going for. They were pretty pleased with those moments where the ghost passes a mirror. Those got to me because I sometimes think I see movement in a mirror. Even if it's just me catching a glimpse of myself passing a mirror, the surprise movement can be freaky!

  13. One of my favorite movies! I love the less is more genre of ghostly horror. It is the suspense that builds real fear.

  14. Jessica ~ I agree! Some of my favorite spooky movies are about ghosts. The suspense was far more scary to me than the final outcome! I heard some comparisons to Japanese Horror in the movie commentary, and I think part of that was the flow of the movie. When I think of the Japanese Horror movies I've seen (or those that were inspired by Japanese Horror) they all had great suspense!

  15. Justine - You hit on something I've been noticing in modern movies like The Darkness, The Below, and Mortuary - everything is spooky but nothing happens! Also, Bella Morte hit on something I've been thinking about lately with her comment "sets beyond perfect." I've been wondering if there is such a thing as a movie being overdone?

  16. Matt ~ I haven't seen The Darkness, The Below, or Mortuary! I take it those are new movies? I'm not as up on modern spooky movies as I could be. I'm always saying how the last somewhat modern movie to really scare me was "The Ring" but maybe that's because I mainly watch the really old ones. So those movies have a lot of tension that doesn't lead to any hugely scary events?

    Oh, I definitely think it's possible for a movie to be overdone! In my opinion, a lot of movies are crossing the line with computer special effects now. I've seen some trailers lately that look completely unreal aside from a few actual actors. I like movies that are tweaked a little with special effects, but not those that are so in your face computerized. I thought that the special effects in "The Woman in Black" were pretty tasteful for the most part.

  17. Justine - I've been on a DVD buying spree as of late - and I bought a couple of 8-movie packs from Target for 5 bucks each. And I noticed a quirk in some of these movies. For instance, a guy spends 20 minutes of the movie (Mortuary) walking around a house with the sound track music making every step, every door, and every stick of furniture seem menacing and spooky, but we/he witnesses nothing out of the ordinary, just spooky music and spooky stalking! That also explains almost the entire submarine movie The Below! It's atmospheric, but if nothing happens it just leaves me scratching my head.

    I'm glad you agree that some of these movies can be overdone. At least I know I'm not alone here! I think this may be one reason I like the old ones, something was captured there that can't be captured again.

    Well, I'm going to start renting downloads from iTunes to stay up with the latest horror stuff. First I'm going to rent Dark Shadows w/ Johnny Depp for $3.99. A couple of movies a month will probably keep me current.

  18. Matt ~ Oh, that is weird... It sounds like the filmmakers had some good ideas but no idea of how to finish them!

    I agree about older movies. I'm pretty sure that's why I prefer them for the most part too. You can't beat the shadowy suspense of a Hitchcock movie with some overdone computer special effects. Especially when the monster or natural disaster looks beyond phoney!

    I enjoyed Dark Shadows. It's far different from the old TV show, which I also liked. This new one has that kind of colorful Goth look to it. I think anyone who likes the Tim Burton aesthetic style will like looking at Dark Shadows!

  19. Justine - I saw Dark Shadows last night. It was visually stunning of course w/ one sensational scene involving Johnny Depp after another - but it makes me see why you like Alfred Hitchcock and why everyone is so crazy into reading books these days :)

  20. Matt ~ Right! Sometimes you want some quiet, less sensational entertainment. It depends on my mood anyway. Dark Shadows would be for when I want quick moving/eye-popping color and Hitchcock movies are for when I want to really soak in each scene. Speaking of Hitchcock, did you see the new movie about his life? I think it's still in theaters.

  21. Justine - No, I hadn't heard about that! I imagine it would be very interesting. I recently purchased a DVD w/ 20 of his movies from Target for 5 Bucks - maybe you've seen that one. Anyway, when you contrast his movies w/ other 30's movies you can see how he got his reputation - he had a knack for making movies interesting.

  22. Matt ~ As I understand it, the movie is about his life at the time he was working on Psycho. From the little bits I saw in the trailer, I think the movie would make me feel differently about him. No, I haven't seen that 20 DVD collection. Years ago, I got a VHS collection of his movies. They ended up being these weird things no one has ever heard of. :)

  23. I have not seen this movie yet but will definitely put it on my list now.

    I have been MIA from Blogging for quite a while recovering from a major surgery. Hopefully now I can get back to visiting everyone!

    My Blog is now private so if you would like the link, shoot me an email at (new email address!) and I will send it to you!

    Missed you ooodles!


  24. LuLu ~ Hey! I'm glad to see you back! :) Are you doing alright now? I'll be sure to email you about your new blog. I thought I was already following your new one, but I might be thinking of something else. I missed you too! Just added you on Google+ so there's another place to connect. I hope you're doing well now!

  25. Ah, Tumblr! I'm following on there now!

    I did like this movie it was pretty creepy & thought the cinematography was perfection! I noticed that ti doesn't get that much but I'm really happy you liked it!

  26. Real Queen of Horror ~ Cool! I just followed you back! I'm still getting to know Tumblr in some ways, but so far I'm really liking it!

    I agree about the cinematography being perfect. I can't scrape together one complaint about that! Hammer gets to keep its reputation for beautiful Gothic scenery and artistry!