For those who live in and around the Dallas area, you might think that growing up in Oak Cliff is a lot like growing up somewhere just outside of downtown Bagdad. While I can’t necessarily speak for the conditions today, I can say it wasn’t as bad as some might expect. We would play in the schoolyard, climb trees and engage in some friendly games of “Oak Cliff freeze tag” – which involves a lot more rock throwing that regular freeze tag. However, there was one thing we didn’t do and that was go anywhere near the old Ravina Mansion.
The most I ever knew about it was that it was the only house in the neighborhood with a gate and wall around it And supposedly, it was haunted. I remember it had a narrow driveway, congested with overgrown brush and trees, that led up a hill and seemed to disappear into darkness. For years, it remained an inscrutable mystery and the inevitable fodder for ghost stories.
“The Woman in Black”, produced by the legendary Hammer Films and adapted from a book by Susan Hill, is ghost story that follows Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young widowed (and father of a young son) lawyer who must venture out to a small town to settle the estate of a deceased woman. He arrives only to find that he’s not welcome and it seems that people would much rather that the woman’s affairs are just forgotten. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for Kipps as he journeys out to the shunned and isolated manor and encounters the titular “woman in black.”
The second feature from director James Watkins (his first was “Eden Lake”), “Woman” is a classic ghost story that draws liberally from its Hammer pedigree. It’s a darkly atmospheric, somber, gothic ghost story. Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones gets an full marks for every minute of beautiful minute of footage that flickers across the screen. Jane Goldman (who also penned “Kick Ass” and “X-Men: First Class”) provides a nice solid script that’s the cherry on top.
So, why didn’t this movie just blow my socks off.
Ordinarily, a film like this is right in my wheelhouse, but this one just didn’t make a connection with me. None of the major elements were lacking; it was exactly what a good ghost story should be. Ultimately, I think that was it’s greatest crime. “Woman” had the potential to be a great film – instead, it was just good. This was compounded by its over-reliance on cheap jump scares. A few times could be considered acceptable in a horror film, but once that number crosses into double digits, it shows the weakness of either the script or direction or both. I counted about eleven jump scares probably in the span of about 20-25 minutes. Many of them were clustered within a minute of one another (Yes, I timed it). After each one, I felt myself becoming more and more disappointed with the film. Even though they were doing a great job of building suspense and tension, it seemed like they were in too much of a rush to spend whatever fear equity they’d earned.
“The Woman in Black” is a perfectly serviceable, perfectly ordinary ghost story. While I’m sure most will find this enjoyable, I find it just another inscrutable mystery as to why this good movie wasn’t so much better.