Woman in Black will run itself ground in rather short time, a film clinging to genre familiarity for many of its chills and dreadfully long stretches of quiet. It seems to think that it’s scary as Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) wanders the detailed halls of a spooky mansion, but it’s not. Too many of the supposed jump scares are prefaced with additional jump scares, yet even those are predictable.
The title card refers to a woman who killed herself after losing her son to a marsh outside the home. This glorious piece of waterfront property is so water logged, the single road leading to the front door is swept up by a nightly tide. Supposedly, the woman still resides there, forever locked in a vengeful state of spirit mourning, picking off the local’s children as she sees fit.
Kipps becomes invested due to his work, a weak solicitor who must seek out paperwork strewn throughout the house. Luckily, he only finds pieces relevant to the narrative. He’s under his own duress, leaving his only child at home with the help, his wife passing on during birth. Kipps teams up with Daily (Ciaran Hinds) who also wanders aimlessly due to the loss of a child, and a wife who succumbs to maddening rage.
Woman in Black is oppressively spooky, water logged and gray. Maybe a splash of color to this turn of the 20th century town around would perk up the residents, but no, they instead scatter whenever a newcomer waltzes into their domain. Anti-social doesn’t begin to cover it. Kipps is naïve in that he never seems to grasp how unwanted he is (just confused), even after children literally begin dying in his lap. No wonder he’s shocked when creepy, dusty dolls begin springing to life in the lonely estate.
The mansions halls become scene chewers, mostly because so little else is going on. You can begin to piece together the methodology in almost no time, Kipps grabbing a flame, walking to a room, silence, jump scare. Deadened drums signify the eerie, ranging from the dolls above to crows that have inexplicably nested in the closed off rooms. Maybe the apparition wouldn’t be so vicious if someone cleaned up the place once in a while.
This is all meant to be atmosphere. Windows reflect the unspecified specters, creepy kids pop up like zombies on the front lawn, and others manage to pool themselves from the bedsheets. You thought hotel beds were bad? Yeesh. All of that is fine if it felt like anything was connected. Kipps is more of a casual observer than a character, his trait of being mournful one dimensional. He exists to be scared by a doll or two, and often the same one. At some point, you throw the thing out the window.
Woman in Black feels hopelessly aimless, plodding along until it reaches a crescendo that requires Radcliffe to dunk himself into a muddy swamp. Clearly, he’s dedicated to his craft, and even without a character to draw from, his performance is wonderful. It’s a shame the movie surrounding it is so repetitious.
Downtrodden and pale matches the mood the film is trying to set without making it a visual standout. Woman in Black’s AVC encode is what it should be, almost totally authentic to the source. That means detail is minimal when hidden by shadows, texture is only visible when it needs to be, and the Blu-ray experience is relatively bland. It’s no fault of the format.
What damages the experience are wavering black levels, rarely seated at optimum levels for more than a minute. They jump around aimlessly without settling into the richness they need to convey the pre-electric lighting schemes. Darkened rooms never support that unnerving feeling with the murkiness on screen.
Aside from an odd issue here or there, say shots that appear smoothed because of the photography or compression errors, Woman in Black is anemic when it comes to discussing the visual presence. All of two compression slip ups are barely worth discussing, and that smoothing-esque look? Chances are you wouldn’t be bothered by it anyway. It’s rare to find a film with such grand scale to its sets and plenty of potential detail be such a bore. It’s a stretch at this point to continue the discussion.
Woman in Black’s DTS-HD mix does rain well. You can say that much for it. The constant presence of moisture will swell into the surrounds to complete a sizable soundstage, one that grows in importance as the film moves on.
Creepy moments are scattered early before the routine jump scares take over. Voices can swirl in Kipp’s head and begin traversing each speaker. A throbbing LFE channel will have some fun with the viewer too, picking up steam as the film tries to startle.
As for a highlight, it’s surely a run into a burning house. Flames fantastically spiral upward in each channel, creating an harrowing environment. Debris begins collapsing, and the score spits out some balanced melodic drama that balances beautifully. The mixing job is more fun than anything else.
Director James Watkins is joined by screenwriter Jane Goldman for a commentary track, that bleeding into a rather poorly titled 10-minute making of, Inside the Perfect Thriller. No Fear is four minutes of praise for Radcliffe. The disc spurts out a trailer and then calls it quits.