31 Days Of Horror: The Woman In Black

The Woman In Black (2012) is another one I’ve not seen before.  I’ve not been fully keeping up with horror films this century because it’s mostly been really bad remakes and over-the-top gorefests.  This looks like a nice sedate ghost story, so I decided to give it a go.

The Woman In Black
Boring title screen, but it suits the look of the film.

It was made by Hammer!  I had no idea they were still making films!

It’s a Victorian setting, and we open with three creepy little girls playing with dolls.  Some unseen force compels them to jump out of the window, and we hear screaming from below.  Roll opening credits.

The lead in this is Daniel Radcliffe, in probably one of the biggest roles he’s done since Harry Potter.  Arthur Kipps is a young widower who has to go away a lot, so his son is mainly cared for by the nanny.  He’s a lawyer, but hasn’t been on form since his wife’s death; his boss at the law firm is giving him one final chance to prove himself by asking him to sort out the paperwork for the house of Alice Drablow, a woman who’s recently died.

On the train out to the village where the house is, Arthur has a flashback to his wife’s death in childbirth.  Waking up, he meets local resident Samuel Daily, who owns one of these newfangled car things and can give Arthur a lift.  The landlord clearly doesn’t want Arthur to stay, claiming the inn is full, but the landlady takes pity on him and gives him the attic room.  The attic has a creepy picture of the girls from the start of the film – it’s the room that they jumped from, which is presumably why the inn owners don’t usually put people up in there.

It’s a really creepy small English village, with everyone staring at Arthur as he goes past.  The exact year of the setting, at this point, is unclear – there are early cars and telephones (both only owned by Samuel Daily, mind), so coupled with the costumes, I’m guessing it’s meant to be the 1890s-1900s.  The film’s Wikipedia entry claims it’s actually 1910, but I don’t think this is clarified in the film.

Arthur meets up with Mr Jerome, the local solicitor, who is desperate to get rid of him and has already paid a guy with a horse and cart to take Arthur back to the train station!  Arthur knows he’ll get fired if he doesn’t get the job done, though, and pays over the odds for the coachman to take him to Eel Marsh House instead.

At the house, Arthur starts to go through the paperwork.  He finds a death certificate for Alice’s son, Nathaniel, who died age seven – he drowned in marshland and his body was never recovered.  Hearing screaming in the woods, Arthur goes outside and runs around in the mist, thinking he sees images of a woman’s face.  The coach driver comes back for him at that point.

While Arthur is at the police station attempting to report what he saw, three children arrive.  The young girl has drunk lye and dies in Arthur’s arms before anyone can help her.  Back at the inn, the landlady begs Arthur to go home to his son.

Arthur meets up with Samuel Daily again, as he needs somewhere to stay seeing as the inn could only put him up for one night.  Samuel asks Arthur not to mention the young girl’s death to his wife, Elisabeth, as she is still affected by the loss of their son.  Elisabeth is shown to be an eccentric who dotes on her dogs, but things take a sinister turn when she becomes possessed by her son while at dinner.  Samuel thinks it’s all in her mind.

The next morning, Arthur and Samuel go looking for Jerome, as Arthur could use his help with the paperwork.  He’s not in his home – although Arthur does think he sees a girl locked in the cellar – but they soon find him with the rest of the superstitious townsfolk, who are blocking the road to Eel Marsh House.  Samuel forces them into letting them through by driving through anyway.  He says he’ll pick Arthur up later, but Arthur wants to work through the night.  Samuel leaves his dog with Arthur for company.

During his exploration of the house, Arthur comes across lots of old photos, hears lots of spooky noises, and finds some violently scribbled correspondence full of medieval images and captions like ‘go to hell you harlot’ and ‘God protects me’.  The dog starts barking about something outside, and Arthur finds a grave marker outside reading 1882-1889, which is presumably for Nathaniel, as well as one for a woman called Jennet, who also died in 1889.  He then sees the figure of a woman in the window.

Arthur reads more of the correspondence, and it becomes clear that Jennet was the real mother of Nathaniel, who was forcibly adopted away by Alice, her sister, due to Jennet’s mental issues.  Jennet believed that her sister didn’t try hard enough to save Nathaniel from the marsh, and wrote that she would never forgive her.  Jennet’s death certificate says she hanged herself in Eel Marsh House later in 1889.

Arthur has fallen asleep in his chair, but the dog starts barking at a presence again, and Arthur finds that the faces of Alice and her husband have been scratched out on the photo in front of him.  There’s then a long sequence with lots of spooky ghost stuff happening, like a rocking chair rocking invisibly, a carved inscription found behind wallpaper, a storm starting up outside (these are always so conveniently timed in horror movies!), a figure in black walking towards the house, and a doorknob rattling without anyone there to rattle it.  Eventually, when Arthur goes outside to investigate, he sees a group of dead children staring at him, and runs back inside.  There’s more scares in the house, including a creepy-sounding music box playing, the toys in Nathaniel’s old room moving by themselves, and a vine-esque thing rising from a sheet.

Samuel picks Arthur up the next day.  The scene here is odd, because the car is really badly and obviously superimposed against the moving background.  I also noticed this poor effect in The Wolf Man the other day, but I can forgive it in a film released in 1941 – not so much one released in 2012!

Back at the village, they find Jerome’s house aflame.  Arthur tries to rescue the girl in the cellar, but she sets herself alight.  Arthur realises that Jerome and his wife had hidden her in the cellar to try and protect her.

In the graveyard, Arthur meets up with Elisabeth by the grave of her son Nicholas.  She explains about sightings of the woman in black resulting in the deaths of children; possessed by Nicholas, she explains, ‘She makes us do it.’  Elisabeth then draws the same picture that Arthur’s son, Joseph, had drawn and shown to Arthur at the start of the film.

Failing to contact Joseph’s nanny in time to stop them arriving in the village, where they’re scheduled to be meeting Arthur, Arthur and Samuel go back to Eel Marsh House to try and reunite Jennet and Nathaniel by pulling the latter’s body out of the marsh using Samuel’s car.  Arthur knows they have to attract Jennet so she can find Nathaniel, so he goes back up to Nathaniel’s room and starts the music box.

There’s more spooky ghost stuff – Samuel sees the woman in black, follows her, and gets trapped in a room.  The rocking chair starts rocking again, the candles all extinguish themselves, and a scary face is shown – but then the house goes quiet.  ‘I think she’s gone,’ says Arthur to Samuel, and they bury Nathaniel’s body in the family grave with Jennet.

Joseph and his nanny arrive at the train station, and Arthur is there to greet them – he tells the nanny they’re going straight back to London, and sends her to buy tickets.  However, while Arthur is saying goodbye to Samuel, Joseph sees the woman in black, lets go of Arthur’s hand, and walks into the path of an oncoming train.  Arthur goes to grab him, but it’s too late – they’re both killed by the train.

Arthur and Joseph wake up in the ghost world and are reunited with Arthur’s wife.  The woman in black is shown watching them, so it’s not clear at all if the curse has actually been lifted or if the village is going to be left in peace.  Roll credits.

Apparently Jane Goldman wrote the screenplay!  Love her stuff.

I quite enjoyed this one, but I didn’t find it very scary, ’cause I’m not scared of ghosts and I don’t get affected by child characters dying.

Back to the ’80s tomorrow!