I spent Saturday afternoon screaming in the cinema and hiding my face in my boyfriend’s shoulder.

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Film stills taken from here

I don’t really like to admit that I had to ask for help, but I don’t think I would have made it through the film of The Woman in Black without my boyfriend’s shoulder. Not even covering my eyes seemed sufficient. Before you write me off as completely lame I can tell you that the cinema was full of teenagers trying to be cool, and they were shrieking as loud as I was. Look at the second picture down; do you see the Woman in Black’s ghostly face? Now tell me that you could cope with that, and worse, happening repeatedly in front of you for two hours. I found myself in this regrettable situation because I love The Woman in Black, the novel, so incredibly hard. This is for the simple truth that Susan Hill writes ghost stories like M.R. James, who is dead and can write no more. If there is one author who I could forget I had ever read on a yearly basis it would be M.R. James, and I am glad that Susan Hill is reinvigorating this genre in similar creepy, creaky style. Eel Marsh House is so perfect, opening its fetid arms to embrace Arthur Kipps and drag him to his certain doom.

My love for this novel was always going to make the film problematic for me. The more I love a book the less I find I am able to watch film versions without being critical. I have to say the setting was perfect, the house and the marsh and the village looked exactly as did in my head, but as was to be expected there are many differences between the novel and the film. With more ghosts, some hideous on-screen child deaths and a collection of very odd Victorian children’s toys, everything that was hinted subtly at in the novel was brought to garish life on-screen. Also the beginning and end were completely changed. No biggie.

I think my main problem with the film as a whole was the decision to give Arthur a dead wife from the start, a wife lost in childbirth. This took away an element that was to me important in the success of the novel; the idea of Arthur Kipps as a fresh, unsullied, pragmatic young man rushing forward without a supernatural thought in his head. Daniel Radcliffe’s Arthur is already half-broken, and although he has his son to care for, the grave holds less terror for him. I won’t give away any important twists, but I also think that the passage of time between Arthur’s stay at Eel Marsh and the horrifying climax of the novel makes the final pages all the more shocking while the ending of the film just seemed inevitable from the start.

Perhaps these problems with the film are just my problems because I like the quiet, slow, menacing sort of terror rather than the jump-out-of-your-seat-screaming kind. I feel like the potential for this film to have been a truly classic, understated horror classic like Rosemary’s Baby has been sacrificed for cheap thrills. Maybe they don’t make films like that anymore though, and maybe I’m just sucking lemons at the back of the cinema whining about the ‘good old days’.

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