The return of old-fashioned gothic horror, first with The Awakening and then The Woman In Black, is certainly welcome after the horror genre threatened to self-destruct from torture-fests and hand-held pov horrors. Both attempt to tell old-fashioned ghost stories; The Awakening is set in 1920’s England, and is the story of a woman ghost hunter/sceptic (she has never found a ‘real’ one) who arrives at a secluded boys boarding school where the children are haunted by the ghost of a child, and The Woman In Black, set in a similar timeframe (I can’t recall if has a specific date), concerns a solicitor who in the course of his duties with the estate of a deceased client finds a village terrorized by a vengeful spirit, the ‘Woman in Black’ of the title. Mysteries are unravelled and horrors unearthed.
Both films are fairly accomplished with fine performances by A-list talent. Inevitably they both tend to collapse a little as they go on- The Awakening pretty much collapses under the weight of increasingly bizarre revelations and is finally undone by an ending that is, frankly, a somewhat perplexing WTF? I watched the last five minutes three times and never really got to the bottom of the ‘is she or isn’t she…?‘ I won’t go into it as its something of a spoiler but I’ll welcome any explanations from wiser viewers than me. I think it was ambiguous to the point of absurdity myself.
Regards The Woman In Black, I also felt the ending let it down. I guess it was telegraphed all through as it wasn’t really a surprise… was the lesson one that vengeful spirits never forgive or that the love of a good woman (dead or alive) can save us? The casting of Harry Potter (sorry, Daniel Radcliffe) in the lead role was no doubt a marketing triumph, and he fairs quite well, but really, he’s miscast to be honest. He’s just too young, at least in appearance, to really carry off the role of a haunted widower of four years trying to piece his life together. It’s certainly an effective thriller/chiller with plenty of jumps and nervy moments; I think both The Awakening and The Woman In Black are assisted in this by their period settings.
Anyway, regardless of any misgivings and various failings, both films are effective additions to the horror genre and I hope it leads to more of the same in future. I just hope future efforts are, well, just a bit more stranger and a bit more hardcore, if that makes any sense?