The thing about Remaketober is that I don’t really have any guidelines. Unless my superiors come to their senses and try to stop me, I can basically talk about whichever movie and remake I want to. As a result, I have a tendency to gravitate towards terrible remakes of movies I love, since it allows me to rant about movies I hate, and gush about movies I love (two of my favorite activities). Still, I do try to restrain myself, and have promised to try and review a movie each year where I’m more likely to like the remake over the original; last year it was The Thing, next year will probably be The Fly, you get the idea. So with that in mind, here’s The Woman in Black.
This feels a tiny bit like cheating, since the original Woman in Black wasn’t a theatrical movie but a TV movie. But as I said above, I make the rules so I get to decide what I’m going to talk about. And besides, it’s not like it’s a crappy TV movie; it was an unexpected hit with viewers and apparently nominated for a handful of BAFTAs. Not bad for a cheap 100 minute movie.
Watching it (for the first time) I can see why people liked it. It reminds me of a high end BBC production (yes I know it aired on ITV, shut up), with all the good and bad things that entails. On balance though, I’d say the good outweighs the bad. It’s got some good sets, especially Eel Marsh House itself, and a great soundtrack (even if it does occasionally sound a little too much like other movie’s soundtracks, Psycho in particular). And Adrian Rawlins is really into his roll as the lead (and yes, that does get mildly amusing given that he’s best known for playing James Potter and Danielle Radcliffe played the character in the remake).
Still, all that goodwill can only sustain it so long. The scares are bordering on nonexistent, although the story is well written and realized, so the movie ends up feeling more like a mystery than a straight up horror film. The good presentation can’t protect it from a story that was pretty cliched when it was in novel form, and since it’s unwilling to make the titular woman’s power-set anything other than abstract, the movie sort of loses steam. Without any special effects, they can only rely on hiding the Woman to keep her frightening, which is why it’s a shame that they don’t. By the time the movie gets to it’s kind of cheap ending, it’s been floundering for about 15 minutes and beginning to wear out its welcome.
Still its not all bad; it’s still a fun little ride. The novel wasn’t precisely high art either but it’s a good read. I guess expecting a TV adaptation to be anything greater than that is a little unfair. So I guess the original carries my tentative seal of approval. I was actually going to go track down a picture of a seal (I like seals) but then I decided “Screw it.” I’d rather be talking about the remake anyway.
The remake was actually the movie that gave me the desire to talk about these two movies. It’s a good movie, well paced, well directed and mostly well acted. It’s part of a wave of movies that I’m actually really fond of (the Ghost Movie Resurgence that we don’t really have a name for yet, kicked off by Paranormal Activity being an unreasonably big hit) and it’s one of the better movies in that wave. But that’s not why I wanted to talk about it.
I wanted to discuss it because it’s a little movie. Its budget is small (comparatively speaking), its runtime is short, its scope is limited and its ambitions are modest. And in a world of huge budget tentpoles, where even the supposedly smaller genres like Comedy and Horror are expected to be part of, or kicking off, a huge yearly franchise, it’s nice to see a movie that’s small, without all those expectations (the fact that this movie is apparently getting an extremely ill advised sequel is something I’m just going to learn to ignore).
A lot of this movie is pretty cliched but it makes up for it in other areas. The Eel Marsh House in this version is a pretty excellent set, all dusty hallways and dark corners. Danielle Radcliffe is pretty committed to his role, even while he consistently looks too young to have a child. It also has an interesting structure, as far as horror movies go. After a slow building first act, the movie hits us with a pretty unrelenting second act, before settling into a more story driven third act. It’s a hard structure to pull off, but this movie does a pretty solid job. Also it helps that movie decides to give the Woman a more well defined power set and made her motivations a little bit more clear.
It’s not a perfect movie or anything: Radcliffe’s devotion to his performance can’t completely overcome a weak script, and while the mystery heavy third act is fun, it can’t help but feel like a bit of a letdown after the more intense second act. But as I’ve mentioned, I like the film. I like ghost stories, and movies about them, and this is a pretty good one. It’s probably better, as a film, than the original, which puts it in a pretty rare category.
A category I don’t think our next movie will fit into. Next week, we go into classic horror territory with A Nightmare on Elm Street.