The Woman In Black – Review

The Woman in Black (2011)

Directed by James Watkins. Starring Daniel RadcliffeJanet McTeer.

I am really sorry to have to reduce most of my review about this film to the fact that it all starts with a bad casting choice, but it’s really quite hard to see past Daniel Radcliffe portraying a father of a four years old boy. I mean, how can I possibly buy into it when the DVD of the latest Harry Potter film is plastering every single window of every store in town right now? It doesn’t matter how much facial hair Daniel is growing to disguise his baby face, or how far away he’s trying to take his new character from the ‘boy who lived’, or even how little dialogue he speaks in this film (because let’s admit it, it usually all falls apart as soon as  he opens his month), I am just NOT buying into it! Daniel Radcliffe has been Harry Potter in 8 films and up until the last one (only a few month ago) we were meant to believe he was just 18 and now all of a sudden, without a single “transition film” in between, I’m expected to believe that he’s a grown man (A lawyer in fact!) who’s been married, widowed and has a child of 4? That is a big leap of faith…

However I was willing to take the leap and I did really try my best, despite the film itself doing virtually nothing to help me and convince me otherwise: there was not a single mention of his young look from any of the characters and we are just supposed to take it all from granted. At some point in the beginning there was even shot of what looked like the Hogward Express, running through the British landscape, with steam and all the rest (I was expecting to hear John Williams’ tune at any point!).

Casting Radliffe was always going to be a dangerous choice. One one hand you get all those devoted Potter fans, on the other you’ve got to be able to shake off his enormous baggage otherwise you’re running straight into the lion’s den, with your public and critics alike.

Radcliffe himself does try his best to restrain his usual trade-mark heavy breathing (even the director James Walkins admitted he’s been trying to force Daniel breathing with his nose instead of his month as he always does, whether he is Harry Potter or even naked on the stage playing in Equus). The film-makers made sure he spoke as little as possible (sadly the worse and most laughable scene, when he has to say goodbye to his son in a train station, comes right at the top of the film, setting a bad start for whatever is left to come). Wisely they managed to  avoid having him standing right next to any other cast members (so that it wouldn’t show how short he is which would have made it even more laughable). But unfortunately all this is just not enough and his presence, instead of making the film better, holds it back. Surely some Potter fans will be drawn to see it, but I doubt anyone could possibly be enraptured by it and in the end bad word of mouth will make this film disappear from the big screens pretty quickly.

It’s probably not very fair to criticise a movie just for his main lead, even less fair to compare it to previous movies in which the same lead starred, I agree. But even when you take Radcliffe out of this film, you’re actually left very little else.

“The woman in Black” wants to be a film about “mood”  and “atmosphere” more than “action” and “twists”. It’s more about the expectations of the ghost in a locked room at the end of the corridor than the actual reveal of the ghost itself. In a way, it’s an old fashion ghost story: it’s all about those creaks in an old house, the thick fog hiding a secret and those eerie shadows that should make your skin cold.

On paper all this sounds great and I am all in favour of an old-style good ghost story… If only it was all building up to something… Alas the pace is even and slow and Daniel is alone for most of the film investigating strange noises around the house for what feels like an eternity; so much so that after a while it all gets incredibly repetitive and rather tedious.

James Watkins, the director, was probably aware of this and in order to “jazz it all up” decided to pepper it all with several fairly predictable loud stabs of cheap scares. I say fairly predictable because as an average horror fan I could see most of those “jumps moment” coming from miles away. Of course some of them are quite effective, but I don’t think that should be a mark of a good horror film. It’s certainly not difficult to scare people with a loud crashes and bangs in the middle of a very quiet scene.

I couldn’t help feeling there was nothing in this film that I had not seen before… A haunted house, rocking chairs moving by themselves, spider webs, locked doors, ghosts appearing in windows, a graveyard at night, thick fog and quicksands, old fading photographs … No cliché was left untouched. Oh look, Daniel is reflected in a window! How long will it take until a ghost appears in the reflection. Not long, believe me.

As for the plot itself, it really feels rather dated, like a story that belongs to a different era, which in theory should be fine, but 10 minutes into the film I really get the feeling that I have already seen it all. There have been way too many horror films following the same sort of set up and this has nothing to add to any of them.

I haven’t read the original story, nor seen the stage play, but by watching this film alone I do get the feeling that this is a short story stretched to its limits. Probably OK for a twilight Zone episode, or maybe even or a theatre stage (apparently this is still a bit hit in the West End in London), but as a film, aside from some interesting visual and a few promising scenes (the very start with the little girls is intriguing for example), there was just not enough to keep me interested for the length of the film and by the time the ending came I just did not really care who lived or died.

I know I am going to be quite unpopular with the many Radcliffe fans out there (and please, don’t take me wrong, I do usually like the guy), but I found this film very very very disappointing. In fact, quite laughable and just boring. Sorry.

5/10

PS: I must probably say, that since I have written this review, I have spoken to a couple of friends of mine (non-horror fans) both of which were absolutely petrified by this film… and bought into Daniel from the start… The beauty of movies: they’re subjective.

 Click here to read the review from the last Harry Potter.

Life in a Day – Review

Life in a Day (2011) 

Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Produced by Tony Scott & Ridley Scott.

Last year (2010) YouTube launched a campaign, supported by executive producers Tony and Ridley Scott, asking everybody with a camcorder to record a day in their lives. Fast forward a year to 2011 and director Kevin Macdonald and editor Joe Walker (never an editor has been more crucial to the making of a film), release their documentary to the world and to the same people who actually filmed it.

Apparently 80000 videos for a total of 4500 hours were submitted from 126 different nations.

The result is a film that tells the story of a day on Earth, and precisely the 24th of July 2010: 24 hours in the life of ordinary people. Their stories, their images, their thoughts, all linked together by an incredible work of editing and a rousing soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams

You can argue that some of it might  be slightly heavy-handed (a shot of a cow being killed on camera is then, non very subtlety, cut together with a man eating from a bowl of spaghetti), but some of the choices are absolutely inspired (montage sequences of people getting up in the morning or having breakfast or simply walking). It’s the amalgamation of all these little snippets of life that makes the film an incredible watch and eventually it ends up actually telling a whole story as the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

The film starts at midnight as people are still asleep in most places: some night shift workers are already at it, some wild party animals are still up from the previous day, but generally speaking it’s a quiet start. Within a few minutes, we are treated by a sunrise montage from all over the world as people are getting up in the most remote corners of the globe. They have breakfast, some of them go to work, others stay at home, somebody shaves for the first time (a very funny scene!), somebody decides to lay in bed for a bit longer, and somebody else begins a new “empty” day: loneliness might be just around the corner…

Despite the sometimes over-indulgent choice of editing and the ever-present soundtrack the film still manages to capture that pulsating realism of modern life through simple gestures, looks, words and silences as the similarities and (many) differences are exposed.

But just when you are about to think “is this film going to be just a long montage sequence?”, then the film suddenly slows down and you are actually treated to real moments into people’s life (well, I say “real”, obviously there’s a camera filming so I suppose it’s “a version of reality”, but that doesn’t diminish its value nor its emotional impact on the audience).

For example, quite early on a little boy of probably 4 is woken up by his dad who’s filming the whole thing (I seem to remember they were in Japan or thereabout): we stay with them for a while as they talk about seemingly mundane things: the boy is incredibly sweet,  the house is strangely messy. Then dad says “let’s go and say ‘hi’ to mom”. They move to a corner of a room where we see for the first time a little shrine with a picture of a woman. Together they light an incense and pay their little morning tribute to the mom.

It’a quiet moment that tell a thousand words: no need for commentary or any explanation. It’s clear these two have been doing this for a while. It’s clear they are incredibly close to each other. Mom is gone. They are both alone, but they have each other… We fill the gaps in an instant. It’s an incredibly poignant moment. This time there is no music playing underneath. The director knows when to manipulate its audience and when he should take a step back and let us make our own mind and feel what we want to feel.

Life in a day is full of simple moments like this one. So simple and yet so powerful.

Don’t worry, there are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments too.

Generally speaking the film is edited in such a way that shows a certain optimism that comes with the beginning of a new day and yet is some cases, this fades away for some as we approach sunset and go through the night by which time loneliness takes over the weakest ones. It’s a beautifully constructed device, which might be a bit contrived but it works perfectly.

In the end, this is a film about everything: rich countries and poor countries, smiles and tears (quite a lot in my case, I must confess), day and night, life and death, animals and humans, man and women, whites, blacks, gays, straights, children and very old people, happiness and desperation.  We are all there, with our fears, our idiosyncrasies, our routines, our doubts, our weaknesses…

Everybody will come out of it and will probably remember something different. Each of us might identify with a different moment in the film. One thing is certain: you will never forget it.

It might not be a complete masterpiece, but there is so much good stuff in it that makes you forget the slightly sugary moments and the most heavy handed ones.

This was my favorite film of the year so far and definitely the most intense emotional experience I’ve had in a long time.

YOU CAN NOW WATCH IT ONLINE:  http://www.youtube.com/lifeinaday

9.5/10

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