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The Woman In Black: An Occasionally Scary Ghost Story
Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is still depressed over his wife’s passing four years ago and his work is suffering as a result. As a last chance, his boss gives him an assignment to take care of some business in a remote village; he’s to deal with a mountain of paperwork needed to put a manor on the market – one that’s owner recently died and which the locals don’t seem very eager to sell. Undeterred by the very hostile, unhelpful locals, Kipps begins to work at the house and there he starts to see the ghost of the eponymous woman in black. He slowly pieces the puzzle together, figuring out her identity and the relationship between her and the deaths, both past and present, of many of the children in the village.
The film’s selling point seems to be Daniel Radcliffe, who stars in his first role post Harry Potter, which is great except that he happens to be the weakest part of the film. He’s not bad per se, he’s just woefully miscast. He plays a depressed father to a four-year old whose mother died during childbirth. The thing is, Radcliffe doesn’t look old enough to be a father let alone to a four-year old, and the way he interacts with his onscreen child is more reminiscent of a sibling relationship, or one between a babysitter and their ward, rather than that of a father and child. Other than that, he does a good job portraying a man grappling with feelings of guilt and forced to be in a place that reminds him of his deepest fear at every turn.
What’s really different about this film, at least compared to newer horror productions, is that it allows for breathing space. The film doesn’t shy away from long, quiet shots that aim to set up the atmosphere. These scenes lull you into a false sense of complacency before boom! A shrieking head pops out, or a wind-up toy suddenly starts moving. Thankfully, the screaming humans, running around frantically, are kept to a minimum. The film is also filled with children who get up and quietly commit suicide. The opening scene – which is of three young girls playing – shows them as they get up, cross over to the window and in sync, silently throw themselves out of it. As beautiful as it is, it is also disturbing – it sets up the film’s quietly eerie tone very well.
For the most part though, this is a run of the mill ghost story where floorboards creak, doors slam at their own accord and shadowy figures pop out, scare the daylights out of everyone then disappear again. There’s nothing in it that we haven’t seen a billion times before and while it isn’t scary – not by a long shot – it will make you jumpy; the occasionally over the top score makes sure of that. The Woman in Black brings nothing new to the table but it makes better use of the generic ghost tricks than most films of this ilk.
Liam Neeson’s ‘special set of skills’ are once again put to good use in Scott Frank’s latest neo-noir thriller, A Walk Among the Tombstones; a dark and a gritty spy-thriller that takes a rather a brutal approach to the notions of revenge and redemption.
Set in 1991, the story – adapted from the pages of Lawrence Block’s popular series of novels of the same name – centres on Matt Scudder (Neeson); an ex-cop turned unlicensed investigator, whose love for booze has forced him to retire early and join an alcoholic anonymous support group.
During one of their regular meetings, Scudder is approached by fellow alcoholic, Peter Kristo (Holbrook), who informs him that his drug-trafficking brother, Kenny Kristo (Stevens), requires his services. After being summoned to Kenny’s lavish home, it’s revealed that Kenny’s wife was kidnapped and, despite paying the hefty ransom, was killed and returned to him in pieces.
Scudder befriends a homeless but seemingly intelligent boy, TJ (Bradley), while conducting research and, despite his young age, becomes a close friend and an informal assistant. The road to revenge soon leads them to creepy cemetery groundskeeper, James Loogan (Olafsson), and Scudder, whose past still haunts him, soon learns that there’s more at play than just a kidnapping.
Directed and adapted to the screen by Scott Frank, A Walk Among the Tombstones doesn’t exactly fall in line with Liam Neeson’s recent filmography and those expecting more of the bravado in Taken, might be a little disappointed. This is a slow-burning picture which requires a certain amount of stomach – thanks to its graphic violence – and staying power due to its longwinded and lengthy plot. The cinematography paints the New York setting in tones of grey which contributes to an engaging overall sinister tone.
Neeson carries the story like a true Hollywood pro as the enigmatic lead and he comes across as unbending, kind and utterly ruthless all at the same time. Unfortunately, the villains – played by Harbour and Thompson – are a little cartoonish, while Olafsson’s character deserved a little bit more screen-time.
Taking everything into account, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a solid film that owes most, if not all, of its charisma, so to speak, to Mr Neeson.
Drawing inspiration from the pages of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and influenced by the same origin story trend that produced the reimagining of one of the most famed Disney villains in Maleficent, Gary Shore’s much too fanciful retelling of the notorious bloodsucking vampire is a tad dull and rather inane.
Set in the 15th century, the story is centred on prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tapes (Evans) – a.k.a Vlad the Impaler – who shares a happy home with wife, Mirena (Gadon), and teenage son, Ingeras (Parkinson). Life is seemingly easy and peaceful for the prince and his fellow Wallachians, however, that soon changes when the Turks demand that they give up one thousand of their young boys – including Prince’s only son, Ingeras – to fight in the army for Sultan Mehmet (Cooper).
Unwilling to give in to their demands and refusing to give up his son, the young Prince soon seeks out the help of a mysterious bloodsucking monster from the mountains (Dance). The cave-dwelling fiend gifts him with the superpowers needed to defeat the Turks, but only for three days.
The side-effects of the deal are immense and if Vlad can refrain and control his newly-found urge for bloodsucking during that time, he will walk away as a free man. If not, he will face immortality and a seemingly lonely and a desperate life controlled by his unquenchable thirst for blood.
Shore’s directorial debut is surprisingly safe and light on the gore. Scripted by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, Dracula Untold takes most of its cues from Coppola’s 1992 Dracula, while also shamelessly trying to tap into Hollywood’s current obsession with superheroes; the supernatural elements are of modern literature’s interpretation and there’s very little of the eerie Gothicism the traditional characterisation of Count Dracula demands.
Aside from the poorly-constructed script, the rather subpar CGI effects are probably one of the film’s biggest weaknesses and while it does have its moments, the overall effect is cheap and uninventive. On the up side, the cast does a decent job of keeping you interested and Evans leads well, while Dance, as the tongue-swirling monster, made for a pretty interesting and enjoyable villain.
In fusing elements of a notorious historical figure and the embellished fictional character that is based on him, Dracula Untold manages to create something incredibly underwhelming. Unless this film hits a particularly personal note, you’re unlikely to ever think about it again after its rather long ninety minute running time.