Let’s get straight into it.
The Woman in Black (2012)
I haven’t read Susan Hill’s book on which the film is based, but I have seen the stage play a couple of times, and this may be one of those occasions where previous experience poisoned it for me. Plot summation in one sentence – junior solicitor Arthur Kipps goes to a remote village to settle an estate only to find that a malevolent spirit is killing the local children in revenge for the loss of her own son and his arrival has exacerbated matters. The play worked through atmosphere and inventive staging, but the film relies on a big budget and a barrage of jump moments. As far as all that goes, it works rather well, with plenty of designer desuetude in the form of the rundown mansion where much of the action takes place, connected to the mainland by a causeway, and plenty of sudden noises and movements to keep the viewer on the edge of the seat, even if it all seems a tad familiar (spectres probably have game plans with a selection of techniques in their battery of effects). And yet, for all that, there was nothing that made me jump in my seat the way the scream did in the play. Daniel Radcliffe as the lead didn’t really convince me, seemed just too young and diminutive for the role, while the scene where the three girls jump out of a window put me in mind of the Dixie Chick’s video for Not Ready To Make Nice, which definitely undercut the intended effect, and the climax with Kipps’ dead wife turning up to see off the bad ghost reeked of sentimentalism and Hollywood happy ending syndrome.
The film director James Wan made before The Conjuring and in which he road tested many of the effects and at least one of the cast members. Plot summation in one sentence – a family move out of a haunted house only to find that trouble follows them, because their comatose son’s body has been vacated thanks to astral projection and bad things want to take it over in his absence. For the first half or more, this is pretty much the usual haunting stuff, with things seen out of the corner of the eye and then more easily, until the family find it impossible to deny what is happening to them, at which point a psychic helper is called in. So far, so expected, and as with Woman it’s all done rather well, with one jump moment that caught out even an old horror pro like myself. Where it gets different is in the idea of astral projection as a cause for what’s happening, that it’s the family that is ‘haunted’ rather than whichever desres they wash up in, and with further revelations the sometimes curious behaviour of the husband becomes explicable. Having reached this point though, they send hubby off onto the astral plane to rescue his son and bring him back to his own body, and this is the cue for some over the top effects that undercut much of what has gone before and give rise to the occasional WTF moment, such as the encounter with ‘the red man’. It’s difficult to see how they could have ended the film otherwise, but all the same it felt like they were side lining the carefully constructed atmosphere of menace, instead going for sfx excess and outrage, strangeness for its own sake. And so I’d have to say this was a qualified success. The thing I shall probably remember the most, is that spirit mediums accessorise with gas masks for their séances.
Lovely Molly (2011)
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez of Blair Witch fame this is more like it, a precious splash of the true grue. Plot summation in one sentence – newlywed Molly moves into her deceased father’s house in the country and strange stuff starts to occur. And that suggests that the film shares unhallowed ground with the above two, but in fact it’s nothing like that. Molly haunts herself, going slowly mad as memories of the past flood back, but with a hint or two that actually there is something more tangible going on, such as the alarm going off in the middle of the night while hubby is in residence. Unlike the preceding films, this is a ‘grimy’ shoot, as if everything is seen through a lens smeared with viscera. Molly, brilliantly played by Gretchen Lodge, goes from somebody who sees things that others don’t to full blown murderous psychosis over the course of ninety minutes, and you never doubt what is happening, so convincing is Lodge’s portrayal of the character. The ending, as she turns against loved ones and embraces her insanity, is hard to watch, but we do so because we have been so carefully prepared for what happens, with scenes of existential doubt and sexual degradation. There are clues in the film of where this is all coming from, hints that Molly’s father may have been abusive, though if so sister Hannah was either spared or has put it completely out of mind, and that her husband is not as faithful and supportive as she has the right to expect. The omnipresent clip clop of horse hooves that only Molly can hear conjures up visions of the wild hunt or some variant thereof, which are concretised in the film’s climax where Molly confronts and embraces her demons. I liked this one very much and will almost certainly watch it again.