The Woman in Black Review
Director – James Watkins
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Cirian Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam
Hammer is back! The infamous production company most famous for Christopher Lee’s Dracula series (and a myriad of other lo-fi British horror films), has been dormant since the 1980’s. About five years ago the company was resurrected, and makes its return to the gothic horror films upon which they made their name.
The Woman in Black is also an attempted resurrection of sorts for its star. Radcliffe is of course best known as the star of the recently finished Harry Potter films, and now presumably wishes to cast that mantle aside. A period-ish piece about supernatural happenings may not seem like a complete 180 turn, but there we have it. Is Radcliffe a bit young for the role? I would argue that yes, he is. But Radcliffe is a very competent (if slightly wooden) actor, and he carries the film capably. Any doubts we may have about his character’s motivations are down to the script, and he actually does more than we could have hoped to help.
But does the movie work?
I think it depends on how you approach it. If you expect a slow burn of a horror movie, with nuanced characters and a solid story, you will be a bit disappointed. However, if you are in the mood for a traditional haunted house movie with tons of jumps and chills running up and down your spine, it will most certainly provide them. And that word, “traditional”, perhaps describes the movie the best. While the cinematography and effects are all shiny and modern, the story would have fit perfectly in the good old Peter Cushing era, or even any of the old Hollywood horror pics. Our lead hears a bump upstairs? Up he goes to investigate! A sunken face appears at an upstairs window? Up we trot!The whole movie is in that tradition. If you can go with it, you will be in for a good time.
(Is there something particularly scary about things being upstairs? Well maybe it’s just this movie… we’ve seen plenty of scantily clad leads going into creepy basements.)
Adding some welcome dramatic weight to the whole thing are veteran Brit’s Cirian Hinds and Janet McTeer. We also see Roger Allam pop up briefly, just to reaffirm the Britishness of the movie. Janet McTeer is the standout I think. Her character is a bit of a mess. She has seen some bad things, has had her son taken from her by the titular spirit, and believes herself to be possessed. She is tortured, and we see it. Radcliffe is supposed to be a tortured soul as well. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that perhaps.
The Woman in Black is a fun traditional horror film. It features performances that range from solid to excellent, and definitely offers its fair share of scares. Dspite a strangely out-of-place ending, it is a very effective movie. Highly recommended to horror fans.
“The Woman in Black” on other websites:
Director – Scott Charles Stewart
Cast – Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Kate Walsh,Tyrese Gibson, Willa Holland, Charles S. Dutton, Kevin Durand, Adrianne Palicki, Jon Tenney, Doug Jones
This particular story follows a group of people stuck in a roadside diner during the apocalypse. Not just any apocalypse, this is The Apocalypse. God has decided that Mankind has once again fallen from a position of grace, and He must wipe them out, ala The Great Flood. But no natural disaster will do this time (perhaps God has had enough of Roland Emmerich films too), and he decides to take us all out with zombies; and yes, God hates slow zombies too.
An infected sinner may expect to find their teeth rapidly sharpen, their eyes look like a stoner’s, and may even find they can walk up walls and onto the ceiling. An outside wall appears to be a different matter however, especially if there is a main character on the roof. Apparently they can only walk up walls on the inside of a house. It’s all in the fine print.
But there is hope! The child of one of the embattled survivors is… is… well, it’s actually never said what he is, but we are told over and over again that he is the “Only Hope”, that he “wasn’t meant to be born”. This is explained to us by an ex-angel (Paul Bettany) who was told to kill the baby, but disagreed with God and now fights with the survivors. For defying God he has lost his wings, but we know he is good because he wears a white trench coat, instead of the black ones worn by the other angels. Yet we never know who or what the child is… it’s kind of annoying.
The ending could not be more open-ended, but the problem here is that we have so many questions about the movie we just saw that to promise another is ridiculous. We want questions answered now, not in the next movie. I don’t know whether they were actually planning a sequel, but it felt like it. Frankly, we all like seeing Paul Bettany get some work, but a sequel to this wouldn’t be worth it.
I will give Legion brownie points for trying. There is no campiness here; everything is treated with the utmost sincerity. Unfortunately, that approach led to the other extreme. We have numerous boring monologue scenes that do nothing towards advancing the plot or, it could be argued, enriching the characters; we have a tone that starts at depressingly dingy and gets consistently worse; and we have angels that dress like fetish enthusiasts and apparently attend marksmanship and martial arts courses.
If I have to mention some good things about the movie, I would say that one particular sequence involving an ambush at some gas pumps was actually fairly exciting, until the incident with the child, which crossed a line for me. Those who have seen the movie will know what I mean; those who don’t may be able to guess at what type of thing I am referring. Dennis Quaid is quite good here, playing a role that would be expected of a lesser known character actor, and Charles S. Dutton is very likable as a hook handed cook.
Paul Bettany seems to be heading into B-movie territory, which is a huge pity, because he is a talented man. He was great in those two Russell Crowe movies Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and A Beautiful Mind, and more than hold his won against his forceful co-star. I wish his star had risen a bit higher to be honest. He deserves more than this kind of thing.
Legion is a dingy, dark, and joyless action/horror movie. Its cast may be much better than the movie deserves, but even they can only do so much. Too many questions are left unanswered, and the many boring monologue scenes stop the movie dead in its tracks. I can’t really think of anyone I would recommend this to.
“Legion” on other websites:
Director – Bruce Marshall
Cast – Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak
Having heard much buzz and critical acclaim about it, I recently watched Pontypool, a Canadian “zombie” horror film. Unfortunately I think it is one of those films that just isn’t as good as you want it to be. First, to the good stuff.
The lead actor (Stephen McHattie) has been singled out for his amazing performance, and rightly so. The writing crackles along with an energy not often seen, and McHattie delivers it perfectly. His character (a washed up, grumpy, and stubbornly erratic radio DJ)is one of those original creations who, despite his strangeness, still manages to ring true. Maybe because of it. We are all unique after all.
The two main female characters we meet (McHattie’s producer and audio technician) are both drawn from real life as well, and ring absolutely true. Their relationships and interactions with McHattie are utterly convincing.
The movie is set in a radio station, temporarily housed in a church basement, and it only moves outside of this setting for the opening shots. This creates a great sense of claustrophobia, and creates some real tension when we learn that people outside in the town are starting to go violently mad. The great thing about the movie’s conceit of being set in a radio station is that we hear reports of devastation and raving mad people, we hear some people being killed, etc., but we never see anything at all until late into the film. Hearing the situation but not seeing it allows us to build it up in our minds, it lets us use our imagination to conjure up what is happening. This is wonderful, and potentially much more scary than actually seeing the acts being committed. This was a brilliant move, and one that carries the movie through the first half (perhaps even longer) as a wonderfully tense ride.
Pontypool falters drastically in its last section however. It starts breaking its own rules and not keeping track of who knows what, how much they know, and how much the audience thinks the characters know. A character is introduced (fairly randomly, I must say), a doctor who is trying to figure out what is happening throughout the film. One of the problems is that we have already figured out that a virus is being spread through the town by means of the spoken word, and the characters have been given all the clues possible. The strange thing is that they seem to understand some things sometimes and not at others. Basically the third act is full of so many strange inconsistencies, back-paddling, and rule breaking that we become a bit lost. What do they know? What are the rules?
Pontypool is an exceptional movie that seems to have switched writers after the half-way mark. The characters, which were previously tautly drawn, and the rules of the movie, which previously seemed well-defined, tumble and fall in the third act, seriously damaging the rest of the movie. However there is no escaping its great first half, so I find myself recommending it, but with reservations.
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BONUS LINK: A Great Review of Pontypool by the great guys at…
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