Don’t Go Chasing Shadows: The Woman In Black (2012)

A time long ago in cinema history known as the 1970’s witnessed a particularly offering of horror films from the illustrious company known as Hammer Films.  This company become popular quite quickly given their keen understanding of Gothic horror and a substantial use of corn syrup blood.  Tragically, as technology advanced it appeared as though the magnificent company lacked the relevance to continue successfully franchising their films when competing with films with larger production scales.  However, the recent release of the surprisingly enjoyable The Woman In Black proved a success for the newly revived company and offers the promise of a good future for Gothic horror.  Perhaps it is just the right mix of Daniel Radcliffe, jumpy scares and rotting children’s toys that makes the film so damn creepy, but while watching the film I could not help but find myself reminded of the eerie nature of The Wicker Man, as well as the dreary desperation of contemporary Asian films.  It is not necessarily a new offering to the genre of horror, but it is certainly refreshing to see the genre done right, because it is becoming more difficult to find consistently good horror offerings in the past few years.  Essentially, The Woman In Black is your textbook horror film and as such it is a welcome viewing experience that respects its absurdity without losing any of its suspenseful elements.

The Woman in Black focuses on Arthur (Daniel Radcliffe) a wraithlike young man who is coping with the untimely death of his wife after the birth of their son.  He is scraping by attempting to provide care for his child while also making a name for himself as an up and coming lawyer.  Despite his best efforts, he is threatened with his job unless he agrees to take on some clerical work in a desolate village that is a lengthy travel by train.  Upon arrival to the town, Arthur is dismissed given his foreign nature and clear attachment to technologies and his clearly urban leanings, attempting to find help from the various townsfolk with no success, Arthur is eventually befriended by Daily (Ciarin Hinds)  the only man in the village who owns a car.  Oblivious to the eerie nature of the town, Arthur demands a ride to the manor of Eel Marsh, which belonged to the late Alice Drabow.  It is once he ventures into this house that he realizes the village is not quite as simple as it initially let on.  After viewing a mysterious woman walking through the cemetery outside the manner, Arthur begins to ask questions about what actually happened at Eel Marsh.  Despite the attempts by the villagers, including Daily, to extract himself from the situation, Arthur continues to dig and discovers that Drabow actually lost her own child after it was removed from her custody given her instable mental state.  If this were not bad enough, Drabow was forced to watch her child die in the lake in front of her unable to provide assistance as she was locked away in a cellar.  As a result, Drabow’s ghost takes vengeance on the village causing the town’s children to kill themselves inexplicably.  Arthur, both adamant about keeping his job and realizing his otherness allows him access to hidden parts of the village, takes it upon himself to fix the situation.  With the help of Daily he discovers the location of Drabow’s dead child and returns it to her room, hoping that by reuniting the two the curse will forever end.  However, as Arthur awaits the arrival of his son to the village, the film cuts to the now empty house as the voice of Drabow yells her refusal to provide forgiveness, this is followed by Arthur’s son walking onto the tracks of an oncoming train, only to cause Arthur to dive to his rescue.  The film then cuts to the two walking in a darker version of the train station to discover Arthur’s dead wife, the scene implies that the family is reunited with the death of Arthur and his son and the three walk off into the darkness of the tunnel ahead.  In the closing image, the camera pans to a statue of Drabow in the corner as the head moves to make direct eye contact with viewers, suggesting that her curse is transferred off the screen and into reality.

While horror films are often relegated to a lesser film genre given their usually schlocky nature, it is important to note that they, perhaps more than any other genre, allow for possibilities of alternative narratives and previously unseen characters.  Take the original Night of the Living Dead for example.  In this work, the main character is a black male, which prior to this film was something considerably unusual, particularly in such a popular film.  This happens to some extent in The Woman in Black, as Arthur is certainly not your traditional hero.  He is a young widowed dad who is not entirely masculine and is undoubtedly not mentally stable.  Arthur clearly suffers from some level of crippling depression, which affects his behaviors and allows him to become in touch with the spiritual world.  In another setting, the hero would have been a stalwart character of social power, perhaps a police officer or a soldier.  Another notable feature of this particular horror film is its dealings with unjust seclusion to a person with mental illness.  To some extent, the character of Drabow nicely reflects that character of the crazy woman in the attic from Jane Eyre who would be given her own narrative in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.  The reflection exists in the fact that a person is placed in solitary confinement for no apparent reason and is not allowed access to the world she created.  It is only suggested that Drabow had a child and that the child’s father is completely out of the picture.  Similar to the woman in the attic who burns down the Rochester house in revolt, Drabow is doing so out of vengeance, as well as lack of acknowledgement.  It could be argued that if Drabow were simply allowed access to her child then none of the terrible instance would have occurred.  Unfortunately, this is not the case and the result is gruesome to say the least.  Horror predicates itself on the absurd, however, it also reminds viewers that in  many of these instances the vengeful ghosts are doing so for a clear social injustice done to them in the past, and as such it is a call to end such irrational behavior in contemporary settings.

The Woman in Black is still making its way through theaters and is incredibly cinematic.  Take some friends with you, as it is certainly an edge of the seat viewing experience.  As for the eventually release, it is certainly a bluray grab for horror fans.

1 comment:

  1. So a quick addendum after discussing this post with a friend. First, I was incorrect in my dating of Hammer's horror films, they date back to the 50's not the late 60's and 70's. I was unaware of this and plan to look into some of these films in the future to better understand the company. Second, I want to clear up my use of the word schlock. I understand that some may have assumed it meant that it was some how cheap or cheesy due to its heavy use of blood and gore. I did not intend this definition, instead, I simply meant that it was a film that one could pick out the blood and gore as obvious special effects. It is true for many Hammer films, as it is for The Woman in Black, however, this is not a bad thing...it is simply indicative of their styling.