Very suitably, Sony’s region-A US disc for The Woman in Black has an atmospheric AVC transfer that is stripped down of colour and vitality and skewed much more towards the blues, the greens and the blacks. All the better to depict the creepy, windswept and misty isolation of Eel Marsh House and the paranoid little village. I’ll say right from the start that this 2.35:1 image isn’t the sharpest around, but this is no doubt an intentional choice made by Watkins and his DOP Tim Maurice-Jones to retain something of an old school look. Grain, however, is light, providing only a minimal texture. This is pretty much how I recall it from the cinema – it certainly wasn’t a grainy theatrical image to go alongside its deliberately traditional production values. DNR is not an issue.
The spectrum, though subdued, still has some potency. Although Radcliffe’s anaemic appearance makes him look more like a ghost than of the real apparitions on show, skin-tones are realistic and weathered. Blood, when we see it spat forth in a gout from an unfortunate girl’s mouth, is deep and red and livid. It makes a marvellous contrast in a film that is predominantly cloaked in shadows beneath a deeply overcast sky. The green of the fields and the gardens and trees looks moist and clammy. Clothing has a sombre aesthetic and the settings are either antiquated wood and dust and parchment, or rustic and damp. The transfer handles the bleak climate with consummate ease. There are some warmer elements, of course. The purple on the walls in the “antler” room and the red writing that Arthur finds beneath the wall-covering and scrawled upon some of the documents come across well – subdued but lovely in the case of the former, gaudy and shocking for the latter. Flames and candles provide terrific ambience. There is texture and variance in the fire which, again, provides wonderful contrast to the cadaverous gloom that pervades the majority of the image.
So the contrast is very good – just watch as Arthur first investigates the house, moving through the shadows with only little bits of the surroundings realistically illuminated, and then when he pulls away the shutters and sunlight enters the room, the place seems to brighten in pockets that gradually extend through the stale gloom. This sort of thing is brilliantly maintained throughout. So much of the film depends on isolated patches of light surrounded by encroaching murk, and this makes for a decidedly enticing image that is pure gothique. The lattice-work of silvery cobwebs stands proud from the banisters. The lanterns and wall-lights draw you in like moths as things get creepier and colder. And the blacks are vigorously presented, which is essential. Shadows are deep and ominous, though you never get the impression that they are masking anything that they shouldn’t be. The swathes of them that occupy the rooms and halls of the house are tangibly threatening. As candlelight penetrates them, there is a sensation of the darkness only reluctantly peeling back, which is very satisfying. The transfer handles the core elements of contrast and black levels with admirable gusto and distinction, then. Indeed, the sustained degree of such impenetrable blacks, alone, is worthy of high praise.
And the image is perfectly well detailed too. The use of filters and lighting means that the film does not completely lend itself to pin-sharp definition, so this won’t necessarily be challenging the top tier discs out there, yet there is still a pleasing level of intimacy afforded the eyes, the period décor and the demonic manifestations. The furnishings of the house are often swathed in spooky gloom, but the antlers mounted on the walls, patterns of the wallpaper, the paintings and the desks, shelve and clutter are given a natural-looking level of detail under the circumstances. The paperwork, the photograph and the picture-calendar that Arthur’s son has drawn are all clear and crisply rendered. There is never a problem reading the documents and certificates. And those infernal clockwork toys have plenty of visual priority.
The transfer is at-home with the film’s profound sense of depth and three-dimensionality. Whether Arthur is walking through the crippled village, striding around the grave-littered grounds of Eel Marsh, entering the haunted house for the first time – lovely shot looking down at him from the landing as he opens the front door – or bravely investigating the phenomena that abounds within its walls, the image is deep and rewarding, encouraging your eyes to rove about the frame.
You’ll be pleased to know that there is no edge enhancement, no banding in the murky grey mist and no aliasing to spoil the spooky broth. A very fine transfer.
WOW! This movie made me jump the couple of times I saw it at the flicks and, believe it or not, it made me jump even more, and even higher out of my seat at home. This is down not only to the terrific timing of the shocks, but also to the extremely aggressive and boldly emphatic bass-embellished “stingers” that the sound-design frequently incorporates. Man, they’re good! I’m obviously not going to state when and where these heart-lurches occur but I will warn you that they are strongly delivered with abject immediacy, room-filling clout and a marvellously swift exit that leaves you happily reeling in the cathartic aftermath climb-down.
Sony provides the film with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, and what it lacks in memorable surround use, it more than makes up for with detail and nerve-jangling dynamics. The film, to me, seems to have been primarily tasked with frontal assault, which it brilliantly achieves. The rears certainly play their part and buoy the unsettling ambience with musical bleed, natural sounds and atmospheric support. But I was sort of expecting a little bit more from them. Yes, there are scamperings and creaks and footsteps and whatnot filtering about back there, but the mix seems to prefer the width of the frontal array and the bold, in-yer-face bombast of the freakish shocks that tend to swell up, aurally at least, more from ahead of you than from behind. There are many occasions when the spectre, or something else, looms up behind our intrepid boy, but this does not mean that we will receive similar treatment. Don’t mistake this for an error – it is not. This is merely an observation of how the sound-design has been created. When you recall that the genre also has such grand, full-surround entries as The Others and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and, most magnificently of all, The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes, which really utilise the entire soundscape, it does seem as though Woman comes up short in the overall wraparound department.
But hey … that’s just me being greedy and wanting more, I suppose. Because this track, otherwise, is excellent in terms of directionality, power and palpable viewer immersion.
Detail is great. As is precision. Those abundant creaks and groans definitely sound accurately placed – sometimes upstairs and off to the left, sometimes much, much closer. The thumping of the rocking chair is an excellent example. Bolstered by a thick and blood-curdling bass foundation that makes it sound as if King Kong is sitting in it, this repetitive beat is properly placed in the environment from the moment that Arthur first hears it until he finally gets into the room in which the ghost is waiting. The turning of rusty handles, or the rattling of old keys in older locks is adroitly presented. The sound of the clockwork toys – the monkey’s clashing cymbals, say – and the grinding of the gears of Daily’s jalopy, the squelching of mud and the scuffing of shoes on stone. We get the genre staple of a rainstorm, though this element is not nearly as overblown as it could so easily have been in the context of the story, and the elements sound great, wafting across the soundscape with clarity and realistically pattering on the windows. There is a peel or two of thunder, which also sound great, but Watkins doesn’t belabour such obvious tricks. I fact, there is an earlier squall that occurs as Arthur first arrives in the oddball village that, if anything, is probably the more convincing one. Screaming from off-camera is unnervingly placed in the mix, and the horrible impact of a snap-cut hanging suicide adds the sort of bodily crunch that makes you wince. Oh, and listen out for the horrible grinding of the noose, too!
So, .LFE, as you will already have guessed, is extremely well pronounced and very highly effective. The sub proudly sallies-forth with lots to get its teeth into. So many of the stingers depend on this gut-shrivelling rush of deep-down menace that Watkins’ film becomes one of the most enjoyably paralysing of fright-fests, the movie a literal tour de force of sonic demonics.
I encountered some slight issues with the dialogue which may, or may not be down to my copy. There were two instances when speech dropped down quite low and became slightly submerged in the mix. The first example could well be intentional – it comes when Arthur’s boss, played by Roger Allam, is instructing him to go to Eel Marsh House and we know that Arthur drifts into a sort of reverie and Allam’s voice sort of fades into the background, but on my disc his voice becomes muffled a little earlier on, then returns to normal and then makes the deliberate fade. This happens when Arthur is talking to the Police Sergeant at the village cop-shop later on, and this instance definitely isn’t how I recall it sounding in the theatrical print. Now, as I say, this could well be merely a glitch on my copy as I have heard no-one else make reference to it, so you can probably take this with a pinch of salt.
Overall, this is a pretty high-calibre presentation of a sound-design that goes all-out to have your heart doing back-flips!
This is where it hurts, folks.
How much did this film make? How bloody popular was it? Yeah … so where’s the extras, then?
Oh aye … there’s a commentary track with screenwriter Jane Goldman and director James Watkins, but don’t go expecting revelations or profound insight into the ghostly genre, the literary influences, the prior incarnations or the resurgence of Hammer Films because you won’t get much of that. This is a tedious, sporadically informative, exercise in back-slapping and self-praise. Goldman, who I think is decent enough as a screenwriter, lets herself down by merely applauding how Watkins has achieved certain shots, moods, images, and whatever else. There is no depth to her discussion, no weight supporting her dramatic choices. For his part, Watkins provides a couple of anecdotes – the freezing pool of mud and the dangerous hydraulic lift hidden beneath – but his input is similarly lacking in detail, frank opinion or anything other than surface-level passion for the project. The two get along fine, but there are still too many lulls and nowhere near enough meat on the bone. This is a major disappointment. I’d have loved to have heard from Radcliffe or Hinds rather than these two bores.
And what’s next? Something to penetrate the mystique of this classic ghost story, perhaps? An examination of why it still feels so potent to modern audiences?
Erm … no.
Two puff-pastry EPK efforts that I switched off barely moments into.
For the record, there is one entitled Inside the Perfect Thriller: Making The Woman in Black – which, even as much as I love the movie, is a self-inflated moniker, if ever there was one, - and this runs for around 9.30 mins, and another called No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, which runs for just four. Both are recorded on the set and feature the main cast and crew, but there is nothing profound to be unearthed here. A wasted effort entirely, I’m afraid.
There is also a UV Digital Copy.
The UK disc, which I will have a look at as well, offers us more than this poor show can muster.
The Woman In Black is a terrific return to good old traditional British horror, so who better qualified than Hammer Films to bring it along with all the requisite Gothic trappings – creaky mansions, misty enclaves suffused with parochial paranoia, a pervasive mood of spiralling unease, dark secrets unearthed in rural isolation by an intrepid outsider – and excellent production values to the big screen?
Daniel Radcliffe has his work cut out for him just trying to shrug off the veil of Hogwarts, but his portrayal of the haunted Arthur Kipps is a good, solid and memorable one. He fills the character with icy resolve, and a destiny-bound determination to right an unspeakable wrong. The spectre of death hangs poised just behind him at all times, and his quest to unravel the mystery of the terrible Woman in Black is fraught with disturbing occurrences and some serious audience jolts. It’s Sleepy Hollow without the quirks or the camp, and laced with an appreciable visual flavour of J-Horror. Unashamedly old fashioned, this is still one of the scariest stories to loom out of the shadows in recent years … and it translates enormously well with this new telling. Hammer Horror is back with a film that finally lives up to their name. This US edition is an extremely intense ride to a very dark and chilling place.
But for one of the most successful horror films we’ve seen for a while – thanks primarily to the presence of teen-crowd-pulling Radcliffe – The Woman in Black comes horribly under-represented on US Blu-ray. Oh, the transfer is excellent, although still perhaps a little way off being full demo material in either video or audio, but the extras for such a popular movie are simply terrible. An exceedingly dull commentary saps all the interest out of such a classy production and the two featurettes are nothing more than EPK drivel of the lowest order. The UK release provides more, and may be the way to go, depending on cuts. This American disc is thankfully uncut, and the film definitely works a spooky treat on home video, kicking up a spectral storm when necessary and still relocating its more limited audience on the ceiling at frequent intervals. But either way, this is great gothic fare … and The Woman In Black on Blu (ahem) comes highly recommended.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.