Directed by James Watkins
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The Susan Hill tale of The Woman in Black is a work of horror fiction that’s near and dear to my heart in an abundance of ways. Both the novel and the original 1989 British television movie scared the hell out of me, and I’m not talking about tepid scares either. These were big, wow-am-I-gonna-have-trouble-sleeping-tonight scares. The story has become sacred ground for me so I met news of a remake, or retelling, with great trepidation. Still, with Hammer behind it and Daniel Radcliffe starring, it was obvious the filmmakers were on the right track; and when all was said and done, I’m happy to say that they were. They just kept jumping off of the damned thing!
In the movie Radcliffe plays widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps. Since his wife’s untimely death, Kipps is a shell of his former self, and as a result both his personal and his professional lives are hanging by a thread. His latest assignment is one he cannot screw up or he will be fired… Kipps must set out to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric. While there he realizes very quickly that there’s more to this small town than meets the eye, and he is about to be anything but left alone to get his work done. Our protagonist soon comes face-to-spectral-face with an evil and vengeful spirit … The Woman in Black. To tell you any more about the story would be ruining it, and in this case, the less you know the better.
Both the 1989 film and this new retelling are for the most part faithful to Hill’s story; however, director James Watkins never quite manages to capture the shock, fear, intensity, and terror of the little small screen wonder. The problem is technology. Just because you can use camera tricks and CGI to tell your story doesn’t mean that you have to or even should. The television version was low budget and didn’t have the means to add such distracting effects. When its key moment comes, it’s nothing short of ferocious. Yes, there are elements of this flick that hearken back to horror’s more Gothic and subtle days, but as a result of digital effects (which by the way are NOT overused in the film), what should have been the money shot of the entire movie comes off more silly than it does frightening. You just can’t have it both ways. Still, this Woman in Black does manage to entertain and hits way more than it misses. It’s just too bad that when it does miss the mark, it does so by a mile.
Yes, if you have the technology, the Blu-ray sounds and looks miles better than its DVD cousin. We are at the point now where it’s getting as redundant to say this as it did when we were talking about how much better DVD looks than VHS. I will say this, though: Sony has delivered an incredible 1080p transfer rife with clarity, details, and some of the finest levels of black and darkness you have ever seen. It’s truly top-shelf, and that is to be commended.
Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are home to the same set of special features. Things kick off with an informative and sometimes entertaining commentary track from director James Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman that’s definitely worth a single listen, and from there are two cookie-cutter behind-the-scenes featurettes that barely amount to fifteen minutes worth of supplemental material. Yeah, nothing really to see here.
In the end The Woman in Black is a serviceable little ghost story that could have been a shining star in the supernatural sub-genre. It’s without question worth a look, but whether or not you will want to add it to your collection is an entirely different story.
3 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5