"A Coaster Ride to Forget"
What You Need To Know:
Despite some real scares and excellent cinematography, WOMAN IN BLACK is an inconsequential ghost story that will be forgotten easily. One villager warns the protagonist, Arthur, not to chase after occult superstitions, but Arthur doesn’t follow that advice. Also, the vengeful ghost wins in the end. This evil outcome is balanced by an idyllic view of the afterlife at the end, and some earlier references to God and Christianity. These contradictory references come to naught, however. This ultimately renders THE WOMAN IN BLACK unacceptable viewing for any audience.
(PaPaPa, OOO, B, CC, L, VV, A, M) Very strong contradictory, mixed pagan worldview with very strong occult elements, moral warnings against occult superstition, positive references to God, Christianity, Christian symbols, and a peaceful afterlife, mixed, however, with a plot about a demonic vengeful ghost who lures children to their deaths and seems to win in the end, and a woman may be possessed by her dead son, which causes her to try to carve messages in wooden objects and forces her husband to use chloroform to knock her out; one “h” word and three light profanities; strong scary violence with some blood and gross images includes scenes with children dying violent deaths such as jumping off a window, burning, and poisoning themselves, girl spits up blood after drinking lye, images of bloody and/or partially decomposed bodies, man sees scary graphic image of a woman hanging herself, scary jump scenes, ghosts appear and scare people, a rocking chair and a mechanical toy seem to move by themselves, and man uses chloroform to knock his distraught wife out; some alcohol use; no smoking but a cigar is clipped in preparation for smoking; and, revenge.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a Gothic ghost story about a vengeful female ghost haunting a remote village in England 100 years ago.
The opening shot presents a somewhat unsettling close-up of a tea pot’s spout pouring into a miniature cup, but nothing comes out as the pot slowly moves from one cup to another in total silence. As the camera zooms out the shot reveals three little girls having a tea party with their dolls in what appears to be the attic of a Victorian England home. Something draws their attention. After looking in that direction, the three girls stand up as if on cue, silently walk to the window, and jump out to their deaths.
Cut to some years later. Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliffe of the Harry Potter movies) is a failing lawyer in early 20th Century London. His firm offers him one last chance to redeem himself or lose his job. The assignment? Kipps has to go to a remote location and oversee the liquidation of a recently deceased woman’s estate. This won’t be an easy task because her will has not been established yet. In fact, it’s believed that she had a large volume of documents to be sorted out.
Kipps really has no choice but to accept the assignment because he also has a young son, Joseph, to care for, and no other income. Kipps is also a brooding, melancholy man because his wife Stella, whom he adored, died giving birth to Joseph. In all these years, he still has not been able to get over it.
At this point, it’s not hard to discern that, whatever evil may be around the corner, it probably has something to do with children. From the lugubrious train ride, to the first night in the village near the dead woman’s mansion where the only available lodging happened to be in the attic where the three girls jumped to their death, the sense of dread and tension slowly increases. At this point, the rollercoaster is starting its slow ride to the top.
The next day, Kipps arrives at the old dilapidated mansion after going through the most depressing moonscape looking terrain one can imagine. Actually, it’s a very large flat marshland that experiences periodic flooding and zero visibility fog. This is also the very same place where the young child of the deceased client’s sister had drowned during one of those flooding cycles.
Once inside the house, Kipps is treated to an even more depressing setting. There are old paintings of long dead ancestors in almost grotesque elaborate frames. Heavy, dark drapes clothe the windows. And, room after room has massive solid oak doors and oversized round metal knobs. Inside the rooms, all kinds of eerie looking antiques and creepy windup toys that start up on their own.
Kipps goes back to the village to prepare for a longer stay at the mansion. There, he has to confront the new tragic deaths of more village children. After finally putting two and two together, Kipps comes to the conclusion that he has to do more than just sort the documents at the mansion, liquidate the estate, and get back to his own son. He must get to the bottom of this nightmare and put an end to the terrible curse on the children. Fasten your seatbelts, the coaster is now on its way down, and there are some pretty strong jolts on the way.
WOMAN IN BLACK is a Hammer movie, home of the arguably unrivaled Peter Cushing Frankenstein movies and Christopher Lee Dracula series of the 1950s and 1960s. However, the inside of this particular haunted mansion looks like a giant Hollywood prop. And, some of the plot devices used in this genre are so standard that the whole experience isn’t much more notable than a visit to the haunted house at the local Six Flags Amusement Park.
As such, WOMAN IN BLACK turns out to be an inconsequential ghost story. It will probably be forgotten shortly after seeing it. Eventually, it’s revealed [SPOILER ALERT] that the female ghost is luring the village children to their deaths. On the positive side, the cinematography in THE WOMAN IN BLACK is excellent. Also, some of the bumps and jolts are spectacular. They are helped along through some clever use of special effects.
For God, ghost stories are anathema if taken seriously. So, this movie cannot be recommended in that context. On the other hand, one of the village fathers notices that the protagonist is longing to have his dead wife back. He admonishes him to stay away from soothsayers, mediums, and other superstitions that would only have him chase after shadows of his own creation. In the end, it becomes obvious his view is the true one. Even so, the vengeful ghost seems to win in the end and tragedy strikes again. This evil outcome is balanced by an idyllic view of the afterlife at the end, and some earlier references to God and Christianity. These contradictory references come to naught, however. This ultimately renders THE WOMAN IN BLACK unacceptable, abhorrent, and dangerous viewing for any audience.