Forget about "The Conjuring" (see below). If you want to see a really scary movie, try this one:
Frankly, I was in no rush whatsoever to see this film, despite a young lady of my acquaintance (stand up Mara!) repeatedly asking me if I had a copy. Probably because I knew that the stage play has been running here for the best part of twenty-five years and because I had seen the 1989 television movie which left me distinctly underwhelmed, I decided in advance that the movie starring a grown-up Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) would be nothing special. I was so wrong.
The play, the TVM, and this film are all based on Susan Hill's 1983 novel which I've not read. However where all previous versions have been effectively a two-hander, with the aged Arthur Kipps relating the strange experiences of his past to a young actor, crafty screenwriter Jane Goldman has opened the story out to encompass a large cast and some very spooky scenery. Set in late Victorian times, Radcliffe plays a young solicitor, not in his firm's best books, who is sent to a remote village to sort out the affairs of the late Mrs. Drablow. Her sprawling and isolated mansion, Eel Marsh House, is set on salt marshes at the end of Nine Lives Causeway and is totally inaccessible at high tide. While it is a little hard not to associate the Potter persona with Radcliffe, he makes a convincing young widower and devoted father to his four-year old son, anxious to secure his job. What he is not prepared for is the hostility of the local villagers, all of whom encourage him to turn tail and return to London on the next train. The exception is a local gent played by Ciaran Hinds who befriends the young man, although he too has suffered the loss of a young child, in common with too many others in the community. They have all heard of the infamous woman in black, whom Kipps reports as having seen at the supposedly empty house, and they believe that her vengeful spirit has carried away the village youngsters. Kipps' own beloved son is due to arrive with his nanny later that week to spend a 'jolly' weekend in the country with his dad.
As he valiantly wades through the tons of paperwork he finds at Eel Marsh, he learns that Mrs. Drablow had been raising a boy as her own son, who was actually the offspring of her mentally unbalanced sister; the lad drowned in the surrounding marshes and his body was never recovered. His real mother hanged herself in sorrow, and it is apparently her restless spirit that has been seeking revenge, appearing as the black-garbed ghost. Kipps witnesses the horrifying deaths of some more local kiddies and develops a theory that if he can find the missing body and place it in the mother's grave, reuniting her with her lost son, the curse will be lifted. This gives rise to some harrowing scenes where, with Hinds' help, Radcliffe dives in and out of the muddy swamp to find the boy's amazingly preserved corpse. However, in a denouement which is radically different from previous versions, the fearsome lady is still not at rest. Without spoiling the movie, let me just say that the finale is a strange mixture of a startling and depressing event, which could in its way be read as an acceptable happy ending.
Director James Watkins, in his sophomore outing (he previously wrote and directed the beware-the-children shocker "Eden Lake"), makes sparing use of the regular horror clichés, unlike "The Conjuring" which tries to include them all. What the film creates is a lurking apprehension -- nothing seems quite right. So when the jolts appear -- strange noises, the brief apparitions, the self-rocking chair, the scary old toys acquiring a life of their own -- the viewer readily jumps. There are no guts or gore, and unusually no attempt is made to stop our seeing the all-too-solid spectral wraith. As one of the first productions from the newly-revived Hammer Studios, home of classic British horrors of the 50s and 60s, this is a superb example of how to modernize horror effectively for our times.
Talking about horror, FrightFest has rolled around again and will be filling my days from tomorrow through Monday evening. I know I've said previously that I should really give up these marathon days, but we've purchased the week-end pass yet again. Maybe next year??? Anyhow you can expect to read the first reports sometime next week.