I think what this movie really makes me confront is the fact that movies really have a mission they are beholden to based on their genre. There’s either success or failure in reaching this goal. A comedy either makes you laugh or it doesn’t. An action movie thrills you or it doesn’t. A horror movie scares you or it doesn’t. I would submit, however, that within both a success and a failure, there are degrees. Some movies were a miss and others bombed. Some movies were funny while others hilarious. Whatever the aim is, It seems to be relatively simple to determine whether or not the movie you are watching succeeds or fails based on your own personal metric. I think this is incredibly important because the lens by which we view movies is going to be different from person to person so the criteria is different for each viewer. Now there could be collective decisions one way or another if you have overwhelming majorities in favor or against a movie. But the fact of the matter is that the movie itself is still up to be evaluated by the viewer on a case by case basis. I’ve had to ponder this duality as heartily as I have because this film feels like it’s challenged me and how I would award it a passing or failing grade.
Being that there is a hyperfocus on horror films this time of year and I’m currently undergoing this little venture of mine, I’m inundated with the genre by my own hand. Thus far I’ve watched a number of films in the vein of this endeavor but I also I’ve sprinkled in some others here and there over the last couple of weeks. I never like to pretend I’m some tough guy who doesn’t scare easy. That’s not it at all. Part of the fun of watching a scary movie, even still at this age, is that something will give me a fright and get that adrenaline pumping for a moment or two. As a lot of film fanatics will agree on when it comes to scary movies, the creepier or well manicured scare the better. By and large, movies that rely upon exorbitant jump scares to try and spook the audience just feels lazy. Here or there when used in sparingly and in the proper context, a jump scare can be fun. I don’t hate them based solely on their merits alone. They have a place in the world of the spooky cinema. Just like a fart joke in a comedy or a machine gun that seems to never run out of bullets in an action flick, a jump scare, when applied correctly, is a wonderful element in any horror movie.
So where does that leave us with this film? I don’t know if I knew this movie was going to be a turn of the 20th century story or not. That alone doesn’t take me out of the film from the onset but it isn’t a time period that I necessarily flock to either when it comes to film. I suppose then if that’s the case as I’m working this out then that’s a moot point. The second hurdle I knew I’d have to deal with is Daniel Radcliffe. I have enjoyed him in other films outside his iconic run as the titular Harry Potter. But when dealing with Radcliffe, Potter is always going to be a factor. He was so well cast in that role and played him for such a long time that it does make it difficult to see him in any other role. As I near the end of this film as I’m writing this, I feel convinced that his ability in this role, in this film, is not unjustly cast. He does a really solid job in the role and while it’s still a fairly Potter adjacent sort of role, he does the film well with his portrayal of a turn of the century Edwardian lawyer who happens to also be a widower. So in that right, this film scores more points.
I think one of my biggest problems with this film is that it relies so heavily on those jump scares to make the movie work. It feels like a sort of betrayal because I think there’s so many other aspects of the film that work as well as they do without them that by adding SO VERY MANY of them in, it doesn’t make the movie scarier it just feels more exhausting. I don’t need to be confronted every few minutes with some lumbering specter in the background or one of those nasty little sped up ghosts who comes charging in at you with gruesome makeup and a terrified look on their face. It’s more of an affront to your senses than a a scare when you get down to it. Even as the film finishes up with a really nicely placed creepy effect I’m just a bit left wanting for there to have been less. My favorite pizza in the whole wide world is Aurelio’s pizza with a number of locations in the greater Chicago area and the original location in Homewood, IL. A fiesta sized tavern style pepperoni pizza (thin crust for you folks outside da region) is what heaven looks like in a pizza box. And left to my own devices, I’d probably consume the entire thing in a dangerously short amount of time. The problem is that even though I would love every bite going down, by the end of it I will have eaten myself sick. It’s the unfortunate nature of too much of a good thing. And I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m comparing this movie necessarily to my absolute favorite kind of pizza, I’m merely using that as a reference point to note that this movie would be better served with a smaller dose of really poignant scares than an influx of cheap ones. There are too many scenes where something moves suspiciously in the background. There’s more than one occasion where Radcliffe accidentally meets the menacing gaze of a spirit and it overcomes him with fright as he jumps away. We are treated secondarily to this same device. There’s plenty at work in a number of facets that seem to move along a fortified tone of real panic and unrest. Children are mysteriously dying in violent and unexpected ways. This film would have you believe that well before Freddy was terrorizing Elm Street that the Woman in Black had laid claim to the children of this remote village in a similar fashion. Haunting images of decaying children’s corpses at various junctures in the film add just as much tension in a general sense where you are gradually drawn to them as it seems to imply when you are overwhelmed with them in persistent flashes. Ultimately it just feels like a lot.
There’s a lot of things this film does right and if I had to take away points there’s far less it does wrong. While I wouldn’t say this is a film I feel compelled to own, I did enjoy myself and a great many of the attempts at scaring. Not everything hit and there was more of an effort than I felt like was truly necessary to be menacing in a legitimate capacity. But at the end of the day I would have no problem recommending this movie, especially if you have a proclivity towards British movies, period movies of this particular time frame or an undying love for all things Daniel Radcliffe. The movie comes together well in the end with a satisfying conclusion in my estimation. I won’t spoil any of it by saying if things work out or not. Just that the ending is pleasant for what was offered. Rewatchability is probably there though I have no plans to take it on anytime soon. So again, there’s no need to add this one to my collection any time soon either. If I had to put a number on this one I’m going to go 6.25 out of 10. It’s better than a 6 but not quite to that 6.5. It’s a little unfortunate in my estimation as I think this could have easily hit a 7 or higher with a few tweaks here and there but again, that’s just my sensibilities about this film. So until the next time we meet, I’ll catch you on the flip side.