Directed by James Watkins
After relaunching in 2010 with the promise of delivering classic style horror films for modern genre-loving audiences, Hammer (which is the specialty genre label of its parent company, Exclusive Media) has once again hit a home run with its latest output, The Woman in Black, which thankfully delivers a chilling tale of love, loss and terror all while keeping true to Susan Hill’s brilliant source material, which should no doubt please both lovers of the original story as well as the longtime Hammer fans out there.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Hill’s original tale, in The Woman in Black we meet Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a troubled young solicitor who is sent from London to the small village of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow.
Kipps is struggling with grief, debt and the care of his four-year-old son following his wife’s death in childbirth, and it is clear both he and his work have been suffering since her passing. We find out that this assignment is Arthur’s last chance with the firm, and if he cannot get the job done, he’s out in the cold with no way to support his young son.
When he arrives in Crythin Gifford, Kipps finds the locals peculiarly unwelcoming – almost as if they are trying to get rid of him. Undeterred, Kipps knows if he doesn’t finish up Mrs. Drablow’s affairs, it will mean the end of his career so he presses on, warnings be damned. Kipps finds a kinship while in the mysterious town with the kindhearted Mr. Daily (Hinds), a local landowner who doesn’t believe in the same superstition his neighbors do and offers assistance to Kipps, inviting the traveling businessman into his home and offering him the use of his automobile when needed.
Once he begins working through the papers in Eel Marsh House, Kipps starts seeing a mysterious woman dressed all in black lurking around the graveyard and in the shadows of the creepy Eel Marsh house, which eventually leads to Kipps’ discovery of the dark secret that has terrorized the people of Crythin Gifford for many years now. It turns out that some years earlier, Mrs. Drablow’s son died tragically in the marsh, and due to the hazardous conditions his young body was never recovered. Ever since that tragic day, the parents of Crythin Gifford have had to suffer through losing their children in often nightmarish fashion. Now desperate to finish his work before the arrival of his own son and his nanny, Kipps elects to spend the night at Eel Marsh so he can finish his work faster and then he and his son can avoid the vengeful wrath of The Woman in Black.
Fans of the book should already be able to guess from that synopsis that screenwriter Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) has taken some liberties with Hill’s original plot for this feature film adaptation of The Woman in Black, which may aggrieve the purists out there, but to her credit it is clear from Goldman’s work here that she and director James Watkins have decided to stay true to the essence of why fans have loved this story for so long and masterfully craft a well-oiled ghost story for modern audiences’ sensibilities from the material. The changes work and allow the story to breathe a bit as well as make for some great dramatic material for the cast.
For a second time at bat, director Watkins has made incredible strides since his debut film Eden Lake, which was a solid effort but nonetheless a very ugly and disturbing portrait of violence and madness; Watkins’ work on The Woman in Black couldn’t feel any different than his previous efforts and shows that he can create this incredibly immersive and saturated palette of colors without the movie ever feeling like an over-stylized fantasy flick. Watkins takes great care in building tension and establishing atmosphere while allowing The Woman in Black to move at a contemporary pace without ever sacrificing character and mood along the way, which is no easy feat.
As the film’s main protagonist, Kipps, Radcliffe is finally stepping out in his first post-Harry Potter role, and even though I’m not much of a Potter fan myself, he completely sheds that persona in The Woman in Black and demonstrates he’s ready to transition his career toward taking on more adult roles. Although in reality Radcliffe may be a bit on the young side to be playing a bereaved husband and father, the 22-year-old proves with his performance that he has the chops to handle the raw emotion that’s central to his character, appearing desolate and haunted before he even sets one foot inside the doomed Eel Marsh House.
After all, it’s Kipps’ battle with his own personal demons that drives the story in The Woman in Black with the synergy between the supernatural occurrences at the house and Kipps’ fragmented psyche providing essential dramatic ground to do battle back and forth while viewers look on. It’s riveting and haunting material, the likes of which you don’t see too often in theaters these days (sadly).
My only minor complaint about The Woman in Black is that the villagers of Crythin Gifford are often thinly written characters; what I love about movies like Hot Fuzz or Hammer’s 2011 flick Wake Wood is that in these kinds of settings, you always meet a handful of colorful characters, and other than Mr. Daily and his grieving wife, played by Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated actress McTeer, none of the other residents really struck a chord with me, and I would have loved to have gotten more back story from them.
But overall it’s Watkins’ complete understanding of what makes The Woman in Black such a popular story for some thirty years now and his complete respect for Hill’s original work that allow this latest adaptation to succeed. And despite many people’s reservations about releasing a turn-of-the-century horror tale for modern audiences, Watkins and his leading man Radcliffe have both succeeded in making a truly haunting classic ghost story that is also an effective modern horror film without ever needing to rely on CGI or intrusive music cues.
And while many hardened genre audiences may not enjoy the subtlety and slow-burn approach of the film, classic horror fans who have been clamoring for more from the esteemed Hammer House of Horror will no doubt find The Woman in Black to be a scream once it arrives in theaters this Friday, February 3rd.
4 out of 5
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
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