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THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)
Former “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe, looking convincingly older than his 22 years, stars in James Watkins’ old-fashioned horror tale “The Woman in Black”. The young lad plays Arthur Kipps, a lawyer and widowed father to a young boy. Arthur is still grieving the death of his wife, when he’s sent to a creepy old village in the boondocks, where he must settle a creepy old mansion for auction. Immediately upon arrival, Arthur is subjected to creepy stares by the village’s uber creepy residences, who fears that the city slicker’s presence may unsettle an old legend involving a ghostly woman in black, whose every appearance signals the violent death of a village child. No sooner does Arthur settle into the creepy old mansion just outside the village do violent deaths begin befalling the village’s children. So, uh, I guess the legend is true after all.
“The Woman in Black” has no interest in doing that “is it all true or in his head” dance. Yes, it’s pretty much all true. You see the woman in black very early on, and as soon as Arthur starts rustling around that creepy old mansion that, literally, is an island by itself, people start dying. What you’ve heard about the film is indeed true — it is an old-fashioned ghost story, the kind of horror movie that doesn’t rely on CG monsters or the like, though Watkins certainly makes use of 2012 technology to throw his ghostly specter at the audience for a cheap scare or two. There are plenty of Boo moments, though to give him credit, Watkins doesn’t always rely on suddenly loud music to make you jump. The film is almost completely bloodless, though parents should be warn, there are some very disturbing scenes of children dying.
Written by Jane Goldman (who liberally adapted the 1983 novel by Susan Hill), the film seems to acknowledge that you’ve seen a lot of horror movies in your day, and its ending makes great use of your expectations. Anyone who has seen their fair share of horror movies will think they know where the film is going, and it does indeed go in that direction. Kinda. Daniel Radcliffe shakes off the shackles of Harry Potter for one of his first grown up roles. The character is pretty much helpless, and spends most of the movie getting the crap scared out of him. Ciarán Hinds co-stars as a level-headed local who doesn’t believe in the superstitions, while Janet McTeer is great as his emotionally strained wife. “The Woman in Black” should give you some sleepless nights, or at the very least make you pay closer attention to all those dark, black spots in the corners of your house. The film did blockbuster business, and no surprise, a sequel is on the way. It’s probably the most effective and creepy horror movie I’ve seen in some time, so more power to it.
THE AWAKENING (2011)
Florence Cathcart (“The Town’s” Rebecca Hall) is a ghost hunter in 1921 England, though she’s more like a female Sherlock Holmes who happens to have an interest in the supernatural. Or debunking them, anyway. Our girl is immensely clever, though to hear her detractors tell it, too clever for her own good. Plus, she’s also got issues. Lots of issues. But then again, so does everyone in director Nick Murphy’s “The Awakening”, an atmospheric horror offering from Across The Pond. Florence, who is still trying to get over some unspecified and very vague Big Loss (turns out, there’s a reason for all that vagueness), finds herself investigating the hallways of a private boys school in the countryside when one of the boys turn up dead. She’s assisted in her latest jaunt by Robert Mallory (Dominic West), a teacher at the school and former vet still suffering emotionally and physically from his time in the trenches. It’s here that Florence gets the ghost hunt she’s always secretly wanted — one that could, finally, prove the true existence of the supernatural … and beyond.
You won’t be too shock to learn that Florence is actually only a skeptic because she wants so badly to believe. Rebecca Hall is outstanding in the role, bringing her A-game to what can best be described as a mesh of English period drama and ghost story. Co-written by director Nick Murphy, “The Awakening” is unlikely to scare you, despite a couple of nifty scenes in the middle section. As a melodrama about loss and acceptance and finding the courage to love again, it’s actually pretty darn good. Unfortunately I doubt most viewers will have signed up for that, and so will leave mostly disappointed. Murphy also makes the poor decision to throw in a Third Act plot twist that is so from out of left field as to leave the viewer’s jaw agape and M. Night Shyamalan claiming the whole thing is simply unfair to the viewer.
The best parts of “The Awakening” include its visuals (the English countryside, the spooky surrounding forest, old rooms in the mansion) and Rebecca Hall. She’s a hell of an actress, easily overshadowing just about everyone in the cast, including Dominic West as the potential love interest and an effective Imelda Staunton as the resident Mother Hen. Usually a horror movie should land in one of two camps for me to recommend it to all your horror fans out there: it should either be a bloody good, fun time or actually scare you. “The Awakening” has no interest in being the former, and it falls quite short of the latter. But if you’re a fan of Rebecca Hall, this is a must-see. Otherwise, just buy/rent “The Woman in Black” for your scares.
HUMANS VERSUS ZOMBIES (2011)
Humans vs. Zombies is apparently a real RPG that all you crazy kids with too much free time on your hands play on college campus around America. This must have showed up only a few years ago, because it wasn’t around when I was doing my collegiate studies. Anyways, Brian T. Jaynes’ “Humans Versus Zombies” is set in a fictitious Texas college town where the students realize it’s no longer just a game — an honest to goodness zombie virus has infected the population, and they’re next. Our heroes include a jock, his dorm buddy, and their respective girlfriends. They are eventually joined by Frank (Frederic Doss), the campus security guard who happens to be an ex-vet and conspiracy theorist. Plus, he’s got a shotgun and lots of guns. Though curiously, despite being heavily armed and having saved the kids countless times, ol Frank still gets verbally abused pretty much throughout the whole movie. Go figure.
“Humans Versus Zombies” is nothing you haven’t seen before, which isn’t really a bad thing. There’s just not a whole lot you can do with the genre nowadays, unless you feel like setting it in, say, Victorian era England or something similarly novel. Jaynes’ film is working with a small budget, which handicaps the film a bit, though there’s really no excuse for writing that defaults to characters screaming accusations at each other at the drop of a hat. Like I said, ol Frank gets no respect whatsoever, and a couple of the characters are borderline annoying. Dora Madison Burge as bitchy gamer gal Tommi would be the first person left to die in real-life, if just because of that unGodly barf she calls a personality. The film’s best asset has to be Chip Joslin, channeling Jack Black in every frame. He’s pretty hilarious throughout, and it’s too bad his character disappears for a big chunk of the middle.
In the annals of zombie movies, “Humans Versus Zombies” is not something you absolutely have to see. It’s not a bad little entry, though it could definitely use a better script, and the editing is a bit wonky at times, especially early on. At one point, the guys brain some dude in the road with a baseball bat and then just drives off like nothing happened. Welcome to Texas, I guess. The acting is generally okay across the board, which was a surprise. There is plenty of gore, if that’s what you’re after, and the zombies are of the “28 Days Later” variety, which means they run around. The film’s own zombie rules are everywhere, which is ironic given that there’s a character who carries around a book about the zombie apocalypse, complete with steadfast rules that are mostly ignored. Rule of thumb: when you’re moving through a dark tunnel, maybe the guy with the shotgun should be up front instead of the girl with the big mouth. Just sayin’.