Wednesday, February 8, 2012

“The Woman in Black” – Harry Potter and the Haunted Mansion

I know that using a Harry Potter reference in the tagline is easy and a little cheap, but there’s just no getting around it. Daniel Radcliffe is only a few months removed from the last Potter film and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the theater hoping his hair would waive enough to disclose a lightning tattoo on his forehead. That’s not to take anything away from Radcliffe; he did a fine job with this particular role. It was the role itself – a young lawyer, widower, and father – that made his character unbelievable. The kid just graduated from Hogwarts and he already has a toddler? Of course the rest of the movie being fairly stupid didn’t help the situation either.

(Note: I’ve been trying hard not to spoil movies, but this one had some exceptionally stupid stuff that I cannot ignore. So, consider this your warning if you intend to see this film, or your gift from me if you don’t.)

After three years of grieving since his wife’s death (during childbirth), Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is on the verge of losing his job. He is given one final chance in the form of resolving the estate of a woman named Alice Drablow. The estate includes a giant mansion in the middle of a marsh, which itself is in the middle of nothing. Literally, there is nothing around this one hill, house, and tiny marsh for miles. Spooky, right? Did I mention that the film is also set in early 20th century England? I know, extra spooky. Arthur travels to the small town nearby, with the goal of going through all of Drablow’s paperwork to make sure there are no hitches with the estate. During his train ride, he meets Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds), a wealthy landowner who turns out to be the only person in town who is friendly towards Arthur. Other than the woman in black, there are no other characters that matter.

As the movie unfolds, we are told the story of the woman in black, who is believed to be the sister of Alice. The townsfolk also believe that the sister cursed the town after Alice stole her child, Nathaniel, and Nathaniel disappeared in the marsh. The curse is that the sister is taking her revenge by killing the townspeople’s children. When Arthur shows up in town, everyone already knows why he is there and do everything they can to make him leave. They cancel his inn reservation, they refuse to keep meetings with him, and the local lawyer hands him a thin folder of papers claiming they are the entirety of what Arthur needs to complete his job. The people’s attitude is the first stupid thing they don’t explain and we are left to assume that they believe he might stir up the ghost and more kids will die. Except we immediately know this isn’t the case because the film begins with a scene of three little girls jumping to their deaths. Yet the filmmakers want us to believe he is responsible, assuming (and how can we really blame them) that the audience is that stupid.

While we are this topic, this particular audience that my friend and I were forced to occupy a theater with was one of the dumbest set of people ever assembled in the same room. Throughout the movie, people were talking, giggling, gasping, and screaming every minute, and even discussing what they had just overreacted to. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a horror movie in a theater and maybe this is just how people act, but I sincerely hope not. There was one idiot behind us who was guilty of all of those crimes, acting like a ten-year-old girl despite being at least twenty. The only reason I didn’t turn around and slap some sense into her was because the rest of the theater was almost as bad. What’s worse is that the movie was only scary if you count things jumping out at you as scary.

The film does such a terrible job of building tension that the only way to get a fright out of people is to startle them with things popping in from off-screen. Arthur spends much of the movie travelling back and forth between the town and the house, each scene only last a few minutes at best. They also show us the woman in black fairly often, which makes you less afraid of her during the film. And, since Arthur’s kid is not with him, we’re not really concerned for Arthur’s well-being, particularly after we discover the woman is only killing children. Oh, the mansion is actually quite spooky, filled with everything that makes us love Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride (minus the kid friendliness), including a hanged woman, candlesticks, and more cobwebs than you can shake a candle at. Plus, Sam lends Arthur his dog, which doubles Arthur’s alarm system. But, as I said, he spends so little time there until the end of the film (and only during daylight hours) that nobody should have been shrieking and gasping at anything.

The movie plods along as more kids die and more townsfolk get angry, Sam reveals that he is also a victim of the curse, and Arthur discovers the full details of the events leading to the curse. He concludes that the curse will be broken if he can find Nathaniel’s body and reunite it with the body of his mother, which is buried near the house. Even though the entire town presumably searched the swamp and turned up nothing, Arthur knows exactly where to look and we are treated to the second and most stupid thing in the movie. The body is right in front of a cross erected as a memorial to Nathaniel. And, the body is in a giant wagon. And, I’m not making this up. The writers seriously expect us to believe that an entire town of people missed a giant wagon buried right where they chose to dig a hole and plant a large cross. Maybe the woman in black was doing a favor for all the kids by killing them in order to keep them from being raised by blind morons.

I know I’ve spoiled most of this movie, but I’ll at least let you guess whether Arthur’s plan worked or not. Suffice it to say that it does not do anything to redeem this movie. The bottom line is I’m not sure whether this movie was as bad as I’ve made it out to be. It’s really not much different than most murdering ghost/haunted house movies and it could also be that I’m simply becoming too cynical. And I really was serious about Radcliffe’s performance – he proved that he is more than Harry Potter, he just needs some aging to help us all move on. Then again, it could have been the dumbass audience that ruined this movie for me. It’s why they invented those ads that remind us “no talking, texting, cell phones, or crying babies” during movies. I guess the writers were correct about at least one stupid nitwit in the crowd.

Rating: Ask for nine dollars back and for that girl behind me to pee her pants the next time her parents open her door.

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