Ratcliffe chooses horrifically with 'The Woman in Black'

February 2, 2012 

Daniel Ratcliffe, after 10 years as bespectacled wizard Harry Potter, picked The Woman in Black as his first move into mainstream movies.

I'm puzzled. Maybe the goal is to slowly reinvent himself. Slowly certainly defines The Woman in Black.

No. Actually it is not specific enough. Glacial needs to be added.

The Woman in Black is a ghost story set around the turn of the 20th century. Ratcliffe’s Arthur is an unhappy widower raising a little boy. He’s an attorney sent to a creepy little village to settle the affairs of a rich, eccentric woman and leaves the boy at home with a nanny.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

The woman’s house is the usual ghost story that London-based Hammer Films uses — creepy and filled with cobwebs, spiderwebs and debris. One of the producers listed is Hammer. The studio produced all those old, and mostly awful horror flicks from the 1950s and 60s. Some had Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone.

A debris filled house, on a hill in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a bog is classic Hammer.

Ghost story always equals haunted house. The haunting involves a woman in black and a young boy who drowned. The boy may or may not have belonged to the woman who owned the home.

Arthur must get to the secret of the woman in black. He sees her on his first visit to the house. A young girl dies shortly after. Then, Arthur learns that every time someone sees the woman in black, she causes a child to die. Most commit suicide.

Admitting he saw the woman doesn’t exactly endear Arthur to the townspeople. And Arthur suspects she will try to get his child, too, when the boy shows up in a few days.

Two surprises about The Woman in Black. Radcliffe first. Why would Radcliffe, who it seems can pretty much name his own project after attaining near superstardom, pick this as his first non-Harry Potter project? We’ll never know. Second. Jane Goldman wrote the screenplay. She’s one of the best. Goldman’s resume includes X-Men: First Class, Kick Ass and Stardust.

And Goldman changes the ending of Susan Hill’s novel turned stage play. The original ending is much more clever and might make this tripe worth sitting through.

Key word: might. The glacial pace is a killer.

One can easily lay the blame for this disaster on director James Watkins. He has one real movie to his credit — the thriller Eden Lake. But putting total blame on Watkins isn’t fair. There isn’t enough story here to build a movie around. So Watkins is forced to do practically everything in slow motion. And we do mean slow, spelled ssssslllllllooooooooowwwwwwwwww.

Arthur makes endless trips up the stairs and down the stairs, into the hall, out of the hall, into a room, out of a room, inside and outside. Each trip is accompanied by a sound, a whoosh, or a glimpse of the horror of the ghost. On and on it goes with little learned and nothing revealed.

Toward the climax and to attract the ghost of the child, Arthur has to wind up a bunch of the ugliest movie toys you’ve ever seen. He winds and winds and winds. After what seems like an eternity, they run down and it looks like he is going to have to start winding them again.

Glacial.

Mid-movie, Arthur discovers a hand-written message on a wall. “You could have saved him,” it reads.

Yes. Definitely. Whoever they are could have saved him. Should have saved him. No ghost. No haunted house. And we’re saved from a very, very dull horror story.

Mr. Movie rating: 1/2 star

Rated PG-13 for frightening themes. It opens Friday, Feb. 3 at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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