Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hammer is back in a big way!

At least it finally feels like it.  THE WOMAN IN BLACK is the first gothic horror from the new Hammer that really feels like a vintage Hammer film in every way.  From the film's sturdy, detailed but modest looking production values (shot at Pinewood Studios) to the steady, smooth cinematography and an effective music score by Marco Beltrami, WOMAN is a subtle, slow-building and satisfying gothic shocker with more than a few splotches of Euro-horror inspiration.  The Bava and Argento influences are readily seen in the film's color schemes and lightning.  When most movies, genre and non-genre, jump aboard the trendy gritty, monochromatic bandwagon and wallow in either dominant blue, green tints or intentionally washed-out hues, WOMAN revels in deep blacks and lurid colors, especially red.  There is a clear BLACK SABBATH and KILL BABY KILL Bava-esque connection to some of the key visual elements and shots and one of the film's stand out shock set pieces is reworked from William Castle's effective but gimmicky HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959).  The film also nicely fits into its haunted house/ghost child subgenre alongside films like Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS (1961), Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING and the more recent, THE ORPHANAGE (2007).  Harry Potter, himself, Daniel Radcliff is a lawyer settling the estate of a client who committed suicide.  He puts in a solid performance in a tense, restrained style that suggests Peter Cushing; measured and never too frantic or over the top.  The supporting cast is solid with the Hammer type fanatical villagers who resent the urbane stranger invading their cursed world where the local children are dying mysteriously.  Director Watkins (DESCENT 2, EDEN LAKE) shows that he knows how to create, sustain atmosphere and build tension without resorting to graphic gore or cheesy CGI.  Watkins is also commended for letting the majority of the story play out with strong visuals while keeping dialog to a minimum.  He also daringly shuns a trendy teen cast and pop songtrack. While the plot is rather conventional, its the film's visual and audio sophistication that lift it above the usual 'reality' horror so popular today.  Sure, you've seen most of the film's elements and scares before in bits and pieces from other movies but it all seems suddenly fresh now.  The darkly romantic, unexpected but satisfying finale wraps things up nicely.  Definitely recommended for old school horror freaks and open-minded contemporary fans!
(Below) Ghosts Gone Wild William Castle-style!

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