PERSONAL SHOPPER (2017) – Supernatural Drama More Interested in Questions Than Answers

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personal_shopper poster

PERSONAL SHOPPER (2017), the second collaboration between French director Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart, is the type of movie that gives me fits.

It’s complex and artistic, and its story is purposely left unclear, and for a story guy like me, that drives me crazy.  It’s like reading a well-written poem.  You appreciate its artistry and spend hours pouring over its words looking for meaning, trying to find out just what it is the poet is trying to say, and on those occasions when you fail to reach a satisfying conclusion, you have to ask yourself:  was there anything there to begin with?  Which is why when all is said and done, I prefer to read novels.

That’s how I felt while watching PERSONAL SHOPPER, a ghost story that plays out like a supernatural drama as opposed to a horror movie or thriller, and that’s okay.  I loved the style of this movie.  But the wheels inside my head are still spinning over its content.

Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) is an American living in Paris working as a personal shopper to a celebrity who due to her fame cannot shop unencumbered.  But the real reason Maureen is there, and the reason she is so somber and haunted, is her twin brother died there a month earlier.  And Maureen isn’t just mourning.  She’s looking for a sign.

Her brother was a medium, as is Maureen, and he had promised her that if he died he would send her a sign from the other side.  And so she spends dark nights inside the house where her brother had lived, waiting for his message.  In fact, at one point in the movie, when asked what she is doing in Paris, she actually says she is waiting.  Her search isn’t restricted to her brother’s house, but pretty much everywhere she goes in Paris, she is on the lookout for some sign from her brother, and when she is contacted, whether through strange noises in the dark or haunting apparitions or mysterious text messages, it sets off a myriad of questions.  Is it her brother?  Is it someone else? If it is someone else, is it a spirit or a real person?  Or are there multiple spirits/persons trying to contact her?  Do they pose a threat?

These are all fascinating questions, and I enjoyed following Maureen on her search for answers.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really provide satisfying responses to these questions, as it remains vague about most of them.  Perhaps this is the point, that when seeking out those things that haunt us, there aren’t always clear definitive answers. Either way, PERSONAL SHOPPER is definitely a movie more about questions than answers.

Director Olivier Assayas drew me in immediately with his gloomy and somber cinematography as the film opens with Maureen arriving at her deceased brother’s home, which sets up a very creepy scene early on:  Maureen’s first night alone in the house. She’s there in the dark, and she hears a noise, and unlike heroines in traditional horror movies who call out “Hello?” loudly and hyperventilate, Maureen silently and slowly makes her way through the pitch black corridors.  Of course, at this point in the movie, the audience isn’t aware of what she is doing there or who she is looking for, which only adds to the weirdness of the sequence.

And this is pretty much how director Assayas’ screenplay  unfolds.  He doesn’t really tell the story in a straight narrative.  For instance, the film nearly reaches its halfway mark before it’s revealed clearly what Maureen’s job is, that she works as a personal shopper.

PERSONAL SHOPPER is one very moody and somber film, and as such, is driven by Kristen Stewart’s subtle yet dominating performance.  She’s in nearly every scene of the movie, and the film doesn’t suffer for it.  She is captivating to watch, and in spite of the purposely vague narrative, she held my interest throughout.  Her performance here reminded me a bit of Casey Affleck’s performance in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016).  Like Affleck, she’s haunted and pained throughout, as if she is suffering from a permanent migraine. Her intense search for answers becomes almost palpable.

It’s interesting thematically that while on the one hand Maureen is dealing with spirits while she searches for a sign from her brother, on the other hand, her job keeps her in contact with a celebrity who also seems more dead than alive, who treats people horribly and is oblivious to everyone around her, as if she, like a spirit, is living in some other world. Likewise, even though she has a boyfriend back home who she communicates with via Skype, Maureen struggles with human relationships.  She seems to enjoy being alone. It’s almost as if she too is living in another world,  and there are certainly parallels between her story and her brother’s.

For example, they’re twins.  They’re both mediums.  They both share the same cardiovascular defect which caused her brother to suffer a heart attack and die while only in his twenties.  Her brother is literally dead, and she seems to be figuratively dead.  The film shows two different worlds intertwined, so that it’s difficult to know which one is which and who is in which one.  It’s fascinating to think about, and the film throws out hints and suggestions that come close to turning the entire plot on its head.

The film doesn’t skimp on the suspense either.  There’s the aforementioned opening scene in the dark house which is as creepy as they get.  There are scenes of spectral appearances, and one of the most suspenseful sequences involves Maureen receiving a series of strange text messages which she at first hopes are from her brother, but then she has doubts and fears that perhaps someone- a spirit or a very real person – might be stalking her.

The best part of PERSONAL SHOPPER is it’s about as far from a by-the-numbers thriller as you can get.  It’s a much more complex movie than most, and for that alone, it’s worth watching.

It’s a haunting film, empowered by Kristen Stewart’s mesmerizing performance, and by Olivier Assayas’ artistic direction.    The camera gets in real close during the suspense scenes, and it takes its time with the spectral sequences, allowing for full impact when apparitions appear.

Other scenes end in mid-dialogue, often giving the distinct notion that what we are seeing, especially in terms of Maureen, is only part of what is going on.  Indeed, this is a movie where the missing parts seem to be more prominent and powerful than the parts we are shown.

Assayas’ cryptic screenplay is like a puzzle, and as such, for a moviegoer like myself who enjoys a good story, it’s frustrating.  The ending in particular leaves its audience with one big question mark.

Yet, this doesn’t take away from the effectiveness of the movie.  Its somber mood and unsettling eeriness perfectly permeate the tale of Maureen’s heartfelt and painful search for her deceased brother.

PERSONAL SHOPPER is a movie more interested in questions than answers.  Maureen spends the whole movie asking questions, looking for answers, and by the end of the movie, she seems to have found them, but just what they are and what they mean for her and for the audience, remains unknown.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE CHANGELING (1980)

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changeling-poster

I first saw THE CHANGELING way back when I was in high school.  It was a late night showing on HBO, and I gotta tell you, it creeped me out.  At the time, other than THE EXORCIST (1973), no other horror movie had gotten under my skin like this one.

So, I was very excited the other day to finally see THE CHANGELING again  on DVD, since I hadn’t seen it in years.  And while I have to admit that it didn’t scare me like it did back in the early 80s when I first saw it, it remains a first-rate horror movie.

It’s the type of horror movie that I love:  an A-list cast, talented director, and a sense of seriousness that lifts it above standard horror fare.  In short, it’s a high quality movie.

THE CHANGELING opens with a tragedy:  composer John Russell (George C. Scott) watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are killed in a freak car accident.  In an effort to rebuild his life, Russell moves across the country, from New York City to the suburbs of Seattle.  He moves into a mansion, a quiet home where he hopes to be able to work on his music in solitude.

He soon begins hearing strange noises at night, noises that lead him to discover a secret room, and inside this room he finds a tiny wheelchair and other items belonging to a child.  Russell soon realizes that there is a ghost in his house, a ghost of a child, and this ghost isn’t trying to frighten him away but on the contrary is trying to communicate with him.  Russell wonders if perhaps the reason this spirit is seeking him might be connected to the fact that he lost his daughter at a young age.

Russell begins to investigate the history of the house, and what he learns leads him to the wealthy U.S. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas)  who once lived in Russell’s house as a child.  Russell finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict, with supernatural forces on one side, and the power of a U.S. Senator on the other.

THE CHANGELING is a well-made, creepy and haunting horror movie that certainly belongs in the conversation when discussing the best haunted house/ghost story movies ever made.

Director Peter Medak does a wonderful job here.  The scenes in the house are creepy and atmospheric, and he makes full use of some truly memorable images.  A simple child’s wheelchair has never been so eerie.  Likewise, he uses the child’s voice to full effect and there are some shocking scenes as well, like one involving a bath tub.  The film also looks great.  It looks like something Hammer would have done had they still been in business in 1980 and had moved on to contemporary tales.

the-changeling-wheelchair

The creepy wheelchair in THE CHANGELING (1980).

Peter Medak has a ton of credits, most of them TV credits, including episodes of SPACE 1999 (1976-77), HOUSE (2004), BREAKING BAD (2009), and HANNIBAL (2013-14), among many, many others.

THE CHANGELING boasts an A-List cast, led by the great George C. Scott, who does a bang-up job here as a man still in grief over the loss of his wife and daughter.  He makes John Russell believable as he channels his grief into helping the child ghost.  You understand why Russell becomes so committed to the ghost’s plight, as he sees it as his job as a parent— especially a parent whose daughter was taken from him at a young age—  to help this child who when alive had no one to help him.

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George C. Scott as composer John Russell in THE CHANGELING.

And while George C. Scott is remembered as a star actor who worked on such powerful films as PATTON (1970), he was actually no stranger to genre films as he made several in his career, including the science fiction thriller THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973), Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER (1984), the TV movie THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1986), and the third EXORCIST movie, THE EXORCIST III (1990).

Likewise, veteran actor Melvyn Douglas adds class to the proceedings as Senator Carmichael.  THE CHANGELING was the first of back to back ghost story movies which Douglas made just before his death in 1981, as he also starred in Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY (1981), his final screen credit.

And while Douglas enjoyed a long and varied film career spanning five decades, he began and ended his career with horror films, as he also starred in THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) with Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Ernest Thesiger, and Gloria Stuart, and in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye.

Scott’s real life wife and frequent co-star Trish Van Devere appears as real estate agent Claire Norman who helps John with his investigation.  She’s very good in the role.  THE CHANGELING was the eighth time Van Devere and George C. Scott starred in a movie together. Trish Van Devere is still with us, as at present, she is 75.

And in another SPACE 1999 connection, Barry Morse appears briefly as a psychologist.  Morse is probably most famous for his role as Lieutenant Philip Gerard on the TV show THE FUGITIVE (1963-1967) but genre fans remember him fondly as Professor Victor Bergman on the science fiction show SPACE 1999 (1975-76).  Morse also appeared in the Amicus anthology horror movie ASYLUM (1972) starring Peter Cushing.

William Gray and Diana Maddox wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Russell Hunter.  Gray also wrote the screenplay for the original PROM NIGHT (1980) starring Jamie Lee Curtis. The screenplay here for THE CHANGELING is far superior to the silly slasher story of PROM NIGHT.

THE CHANGELING will creep you out in the same way that the modern day PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies do but with the added bonus of also delivering a solid story, something the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never done.  And that’s what sets THE CHANGELING apart from a lot of other horror movies.  It does something that most horror films do not do, and that is it generates scares and creates a sense of eeriness without skimping on its story.  In fact, the story just might be the strongest part of this film.

THE CHANGELING is one of the best movies of its type.  And while I didn’t find it quite as scary as I did way back in the early 80s, it still holds up very well today. In fact, if you’ve never seen it and you’re watching it for the first time, you might not want to watch it alone.  Just sayin’.

—END—

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), published in the December 2015 edition of THE HWA NEWSLETTER, the Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association.
Enjoy!
—Michael
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
Not only is December a great time to watch a haunted house movie, but the plot of today’s movie ­ THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) ­­­ actually takes place in December. How cool is that? Okay, so I’m easily amused.
I actually saw THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE when it was first released at the drive­in as part of a double feature with THE OTHER (1972). I was nine years­old when my parents took my younger brother and me to see this double bill, and while I slept through THE OTHER, I remember enjoying HELL HOUSE. So, there was certainly some nostalgia watching this one again recently on Netflix Streaming, especially since I hadn’t seen it in years.
Its tale of an investigative team probing a haunted house, trying to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, reminds me an awful lot of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and the movie THE HAUNTING (1963) which is based on the Shirley Jackson story. But it’s actually based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
In THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) a physicist, leads the examination into Hell House. His team includes his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), a psychic Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and a physical medium, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who has the distinction of being the only survivor from a previous investigation into the house.
legend of hell house - team
So, do ghosts exist or not? Dr. Barrett seems hell bent on proving once and for all that they do not exist, but the spirit that occupies Hell House has other ideas.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is ghostly fun from start to finish. It’s full of spooky atmosphere and contains plenty of creepy scenes.
Director John Hough, fresh off his horror hit for Hammer Films, the vampire film TWINS OF EVIL (1971) starring Peter Cushing, pretty much strikes gold again. Both of these films are excellent horror movies. Hough would go on to direct the Walt Disney classic ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975), as well as its sequel RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978) starring Christopher Lee. Hough would also direct Peter Cushing’s final movie, BIGGLES: ADVENTURES IN TIME (1986).
Roddy McDowall leads a fine cast. McDowall is excellent here as Benjamin Fischer, the man with the most insight into Hell House since he had been there before. I was already a Roddy McDowall fan when I saw this at the movies in 1973 because of the PLANET OF THE APES films. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was probably the first movie where I actually got to see his face!
So that’s what Cornelius looks like!
Clive Revill is authoritative as physicist and lead investigator Dr. Barrett, and Gayle Hunnicutt is memorable as his wife Ann. Pamela Franklin makes for a beautiful and oftentimes vulnerable psychic Florence Tanner. Even Michael Gough shows up as a corpse, which is a nice way of keeping this Hammer favorite from his signature overacting!
All four of the main characters go through changes since they are all affected one way or another by the spirit occupying Hell House. McDowall’s character probably fares the best, as he seems to
be best equipped to fend off the ghost.
Clive Revill’s Dr. Barrett, on the other hand, the supposed the leader of the team, is influenced by
the Hell House spirit pretty much from the get­go, as he quickly becomes irritable, angry, and worst of all confused. Sure, these could just be personality flaws, but more likely, they’re the work of the ghost.
Barrett’s wife Ann becomes sexually aroused and continually makes advances towards Ben Fischer, while psychic Florence senses who the ghost is but no one on her team seems to believe her, probably because she too exhibits odd behavior.
Is this assembled team just a group of oddballs? Or are they all influenced and infected by the supernatural presence residing at Hell House? You know the answer to that question, and that’s what makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE so much fun.
The prevailing feeling throughout THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is one of uncertainty and doubt. The supernatural entity makes its presence known immediately, and the characters all become affected quickly, even if they don’t realize it.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is an excellent horror movie and is yet another quality horror film from the 1970s, a decade which is chock full of horror classics. Sure, there are the big budget  classics like THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975), THE OMEN (1976) and ALIEN (1979),  but it’s also the decade of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and HALLOWEEN (1978). It’s also the decade of films
like THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977), low budget films that didn’t become huge hits but provided quality horror entertainment all the same. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE falls into this latter category.
As we look back today at the 1970s, a decade famous for its bad hairstyles and disco music, it’s quite clear that for horror movie fans, it’s one of the best decades ever. There are a lot of really good horror movies made in the 1970s.
If there’s one weakness regarding THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE it’s the film’s plot. Its haunted house tale is nothing I haven’t seen before, and even though the film has fun with it, and it all works, at the end of the day, it’s still just another haunted house story with all the similar
trimmings.
What makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE stand out among other films of its type is a talented cast, strong direction, and a decent script by Richard Matheson.
As you make the rounds this holiday season, visiting family and fiends­­­ er, friends, don’t forget  to stop by HELL HOUSE. There’s someone there who’s dying to see you.
­­­END­­­

Not Haunted by THE HAUNTING (1963)

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haunting_poster_dvdartDVD Review:  THE HAUNTING (1963)

By

Michael Arruda

 

THE HAUNTING (1963), Robert Wise’s classic ghost story movie based on the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House, is a film that I could never get into as a kid, as I was into monster movies and horror films that were much more in-your-face than the type of subtle scares found here.

 

But I recently caught up with this horror classic the other day on DVD and you know what?  I’m still not nuts about it.

 

Which puts me in the minority because I know a lot of folks who swear by this movie and consider it one of the best ghost story movies ever made.  Sadly, I disagree.

 

I actually enjoyed Shirley Jackson’s novel better than the movie, even though truth be told there really aren’t a whole lot of differences between the book and the movie, as the film remained mostly faithful to the book.  However, one major difference between the two is the book makes the case that it’s the house itself that is haunted, that it’s the house itself that is evil, and it actually treats the house as a major character in the story.  The movie doesn’t do this.

 

The film focuses on the psychological make-up of the main character, Eleanor, suggesting that the ghostly activities inside the house are perhaps only happening inside Eleanor’s head, since she’s the only one who the house seems to affect.

 

THE HAUNTING has a neat beginning, as a voice-over explains the history of Hill House, chronicling the tragic events which took place there over the years.  The film then jumps to present day where Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) plans to investigate the house to find out whether or not it’s truly haunted. 

 

Markway assembles a team to stay in the house with him.  This team consists of a woman, Eleanor (Julie Harris), chosen in spite of her emotional instability because she once had a spiritual encounter, Theo (Claire Bloom) a woman with psychic abilities, and a young man, Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), who stands to inherit the house. Sanderson is there to protect his investment. 

 

On cue, strange things begin to happen, most of them to Eleanor, and she soon believes the house wants her to stay there.  Eleanor is happy inside Hill House, as it provides her with an escape from her prior life, where she had spent years caring for her sick elderly mother.  After her mother passed away, Eleanor lived with her sister, her sister’s husband, and their young daughter, but things were stressful there, because Eleanor felt angry that the brunt of caring for their sick mother fell completely on her.

 

Eleanor also develops feelings for Dr. Markway, even though he’s married.  When Markway’s wife Grace (Lois Maxwell) arrives at Hill House, Eleanor sees her as a threat, and she reacts badly when Markway suggests that she leave Hill House, concerned that things at the house have grown too intense for her, and that she’s close to suffering a nervous breakdown. 

 

But Eleanor does not want to leave Hill House.  Ever.

 

In terms of quiet horror, THE HAUNTING works well.  It does possess an eerie quality that can be somewhat unnerving when watching it alone at night, even if the scares aren’t all that intense.  There’s a particular moment, for example, where Eleanor thinks she’s holding Theo’s hand, but she then sees Theo on the other side of the room, which begs the question:  whose hand has she holding?  Creepy, but not scary.

 

Robert Wise’s direction is tight and solid, and technically, the film is enjoyable to watch.  There are a lot of creepy things going on inside the house, things like characters scaring themselves by seeing their reflection in a mirror, doors that close by themselves, and a host of other things.  I was certainly intrigued by all I saw, but I was rarely frightened.

 

It’s a case where, for me, the movie didn’t go for the jugular enough.  It’s definitely a case of style over substance.

 

I definitely prefer some of Wise’s other films over this one, films like THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), WEST SIDE STORY (1961), and STAR TREK:  THE MOTION PICTURE (1979).  And although it’s not one of my personal favorites, Wise did direct the family classic THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).  One thing is for sure:  Wise certainly enjoyed an eclectic career.

 

The screenplay by Nelson Gidding is okay but it’s a difficult one to warm up to.  The characters tend to speak peripherally, talking around things rather than getting to the heart of the matter, and while they’re somewhat interesting, they’re not all that likeable.  And in terms of creepiness and getting under one’s skin, it’s not as effective as Jackson’s novel. 

 

Gidding has also written some other suspect screenplays, including THE HINDENBURG (1975) and BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979).

 

The cast is fine although it didn’t wow me.  Julie Harris is okay as Eleanor, but she grows increasingly annoying as the movie goes on, and I have to admit I didn’t really care what happened to her.

 

I thought Richard Johnson made a likeable Dr. Markway, and I actually wished the movie had been more about him.  Markway is very authoritative in the movie, although, ultimately, he proves to be an ineffective investigator.  I also found Claire Bloom irritating as Theo, although I did enjoy Russ Tamblyn’s performance as the laid back Luke Sanderson. 

 

And Lois Maxwell, James Bond’s MoneyPenney herself, is on hand as Markway’s wife Grace, and she’s very good in the few scenes she’s in.

 

THE HAUNTING is considered a classic of the genre, but I just have never been able to get into it. Its story is heightened by some neat visuals by director Wise, and it’s got decent acting, but the script never grabbed me, either with its story or its characters. 

 

Simply put, I wasn’t haunted by THE HAUNTING.

 

—END—

 

 

 

 

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) – Atmospheric Ghost Story Lacks Originality

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The-Woman-in-Black-posterBlu-Ray Review:  THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome back, Hammer Films!

Yep, it’s good to see you again.  Hammer Films, the company which made stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the 1950s and 1960s, and made quality horror movies until the mid-1970s when they went out of business, is back making movies again.  The company has followed up its entertaining vampire movie LET ME IN (2010), a remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) with the ghost story movie THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012), now available on Blu-ray, starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.

In THE WOMAN IN BLACK, Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young London lawyer at the dawn of the 20th century, a single dad who’s still grieving over the death of his wife.  Kipps is sent to the village of Cryphin Gifford to settle the estate of a woman Alice Drabow who had recently passed away.

Once there, he receives the cold shoulder from the villagers, as they pretty much tell him to turn around and go back, but Kipps tells them that he’s there to do a job, and he’s staying until he finishes it.  The estate is on a winding road which gets covered with water when the tide comes in, in one of the film’s more impressive visuals.  So, when Kipps goes to the creepy mansion, once the tide comes in, he’s stranded there until the tide goes out again.

Since this is a ghost story, as you would imagine, Kipps begins to see strange things inside the house, specifically a mysterious woman in black who’s none too friendly.  As Kipps investigates, he learns that the mysterious woman is the ghost of Alice Drabow’s sister, who spent her life mourning the loss of her young son.  Now as an angry ghost, she’s intent on making everyone in the village feel her pain, and she accomplishes this task by targeting their children.  Nice lady!

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a beautifully photographed horror movie, reminiscent of the Hammer Films period pieces of old.  Director James Watkins has made a very impressive looking movie.  It’s also quite creepy, as Watkins imbues the haunted house scenes with lots of unsettling and downright shocking moments.  It’ll make you jump for sure.

And the acting is all very good.  Daniel Radcliffe more than holds his own as the lead character, Arthur Kipps. He easily carries this movie on his shoulders, and is interesting enough to keep the viewer’s interest throughout.  The supporting cast is adequate, especially Ciaran Hinds, who plays Daily, the one man in the village who befriends Kipps.

But where THE WOMAN IN BLACK goes wrong is in its story which just can’t sustain enough interest for its 90 minute running time.  The ghost scenes are eerie, but when it comes time for the story to deliver answers, it’s simply not all that impressive, nor is it anything we haven’t seen before.  I certainly expected more.

This came as a surprise to me, because the screenplay by Jane Goldman is based upon the novel by Susan Hill.  You’d think the story here would be deep and resonating, but it’s shallow and ordinary.  While THE WOMAN IN BLACK is certainly a very atmospheric movie, by far its greatest attribute, its story is about as standard as ghost stories get.

You have an angry vengeful ghost.  In short, she’s pissed off, and she’s letting the world know it.  And that’s it.  There’s nothing more creative here, nothing to lift this particular tale above the rest.  When all is said and done, there just isn’t much that is original about THE WOMAN IN BLACK.

I suppose I should be grateful that there aren’t any silly plot twists at the end.

Screenwriter Jane Goldman worked on the screenplays to two of my favorite films of the past few years, KICK-ASS (2010) and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011).  While her screenplay for THE WOMAN IN BLACK, which she wrote solo, is decent, it’s not as good as KICK-ASS or X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a somber tale, steeped in sadness, and as such it’s something of a downer.  It reminded me a little bit of THE OTHERS (2001) starring Nicole Kidman, although that film had a more creative plot.

If you’re alone at night and in the right kind of mood, THE WOMAN IN BLACK might work for you, but if not, it might leave you empty and wanting more.

Still, it was good to see the Hammer logo at the beginning of the movie, and I hope there are plenty more Hammer Films to come.

Welcome back, Hammer!  You shouldn’t have stayed away so long.

—END—