The Shadows Know...
The Woman In Black 2012
Directed by James Watkins
Screening at UK cinemas.
Warning: There are some spoilers hidden in
the muddy text of this review, just waiting to be
unearthed from their brown, sludgy resting place...
Okay... there are some pretty heavy caveats before I start on this review properly... and I might as well get the rant over with from the start. I primarily was treating this screening of The Woman In Black as kind of a “window shopping” expedition to see if it’s worth picking up the US Region 1 edition when it comes out. Why? Because Hammer, a company who I have an interest in, have totally copped out and gone for the money on this one in the UK. The BBFC were willing to allow the release of The Woman In Black completely uncut with a 15 rating on it... instead, Hammer have chosen to shear the film of some 6 seconds worth of shots (a huge amount considering I find the slashing of even a single frame an abomination to any piece of finished art) so that they could gain a 12A rating on it and catch the children’s market who are going to go out and see this film for the central star, Daniel Radcliffe (he’s the guy who plays Harry Potter in the movie adaptations of those books).
Now there’s been some criticism of this decision around the net, as the film is quite (well kinda) scary in places and there is a fear that children seeing this kind of old-school ghost story will be traumatised by viewing this. Good for them, I say. This is not the reason why I personally think Hammer’s decision is an appalling move. On the contrary, I remember the Hammer films which used to scare me as a 6 or 7 year old and kept me up all night before school with cold sweats and I see grown men and women now who are just not able to watch a simple horror film out of fear and I realise that seeing really scary movies at a young age very much arms a person to cope with real life horrors should they occur in later life... and also allows them another artistic channel from which to receive art (i.e. the horror movie). So hoorah for a culture that allows kids to be frightened and learn how to face up to their fears... I’m all for that.
However... you should never cut a movie and you should certainly never cut a movie on the flimsy attraction of financial gain. Now I know Hammer have had a long history of cutting their films pre-release due to damnable interference from the censors but in those days it was make the cuts or don’t release the movie... simple as that. Here, though, it’s a different kettle of piranha fish we're dealing with. Hammer stand to make much more money from the childrens market on this one than if they’d have released the film with a 15 rating... it’s that simple and that reprehensible in practice. Since I know I wouldn’t blind buy an uncut Region 1 US edition of the film from overseas given Hammer’s recent track record, this was the only way I could find out if the film was worth picking up on its DVD release overseas (in its hopefully unmolested and unraped original cut)... by going to the shop window/highlights screenings in cinemas over here. Because this really isn’t the film you’re watching in cinemas in the UK, so you know, just a highlights compilation version of it missing 6 whole seconds. That’s 144 frames missing people!
Ok... secondly, I should probably tell you that I am not familiar with Susan Hill’s 1983 novel on which this film is based and nor am I familiar with the various radio, TV and stage adaptations which have done the rounds since then... if I was then I’d probably be much more critical of this new Hammer version because, from what I’ve heard, it messes with the original quite a lot, taking liberties with the material left, right and centre and ultimately completely changing the end to something that, in some people’s interpretation, could be seen as a rainbow sky, happy ending to the story. It’s an ending which solves a couple of plot details and ties them up in a nice bow to make them more palatable for an audience as opposed to leaving things worse and much darker for the main protagonist at the end. I’d particularly like to have seen the TV version though, because it was adapted by Nigel Kneale, creator of one of my fictional heroes Professor Quatermass.
But I digress here... I’m getting ahead of myself and making The Woman In Black sound like it’s a bad movie... it’s really not and I think a lot of the credit for this can be laid at the door of Jane Goldman, the crimson haired, chesty wife of Jonathan Ross who wrote the screenplay to this and a few other films in recent years which have proved to be well written. She’s really on top of things again with the writing of this one and, aided by some not half bad performances, the film shines... in its own way.
Now there’s no getting away from the fact that The Woman In Black is very much an old school ghost story and, as such, it relies on every tired shock and horror trick in the book to frighten you... shadows in corridors, screams and nursery time twinkle tunes, large shifts in sound volumes as innocent creatures or objects become wrought embodiments of living peril for a few seconds before... you know... you get your breath back. However, although this movie does, as I said, make use of every horror movie trick in the book, it does so with impeccable timing and a true sense of how to edit this kind of film exactly right to milk the scares and build tension in the audience. It’s very, very well done and, as such, the director should be applauded for his efforts here. Especially when one of those fright sequences is extended out for what must be twenty minutes... just before you start getting bored of seeing suspenseful supernatural shock after shock as Radcliffe’s character wanders the house and grounds a second night... he finally gives you a breather to start setting up the slow burn tension again for a later, similar sequence.
The performances are all fine too, even from the former Harry Potter star, who I’m sure will develop into a fine and much loved character actor by the time he reaches his twilight years. And there’s some beautiful camerawork throughout with a particularly good series of sequential establishing shots in the early stages of the film involving a car journey which makes strong use on cutting on motion and dovetailing these shots in a way which is risky but is edited skillfully enough to pull off the intent beautifully... as the shots work together to pull the audience into the mindset and proximity of the characters in the car as placed in their surrounding environment.
The end, as I’ve said earlier, is much different from the source material and is largely open to audience interpretation... not for the finality or closure of the main protagonists, you are left in absolutely no doubt as to their final fate, but in terms of whether you would interpret this movie as a happy or sad ending to events. The choice is yours and it’s very much an ending that tries to have its cake and eat it at the same time. If I was being unkind I might call it almost a cop out... but it’s not such a blunt instrument of an ending to a movie and it could have been worse. Fortunately, the movie ends with a small shot which is very much an iconic, classic hammer moment... and I think it’s a moment that’s going to haunt some of the younger audience members for a while.
So should you see it? Well yeah, why not? As long as you realise that this is not the final cut as originally delivered by the director... although I’m sure the subsequent tampering probably has his blessing and he may have even made the cuts himself for all I know. If you like ghost stories then you’ll probably like this one... there’s been a lot of variants of this around at the movie houses over the past few years but this is a more than competent effort in the genre and deserves to be seen by people, like myself, who enjoy a good ghost yarn... or, you know, wait for an uncut version from foreign shores with the DVD release... it’s all good.