Not enough of my cinema trips involve a heart monitor and a notepad. Luckily this was rectified last week when I attended both a film screening of The Woman in Black and a performance of the long running play, equipped with the aforementioned monitor to deem which one I found the most terrifying.
I should contextualize this review by stating that I am a naturally jumpy person; I once nearly punched a bewildered zombie actor for jumping out at me at Universal Studios’ Haunted House making him hate his job possibly more than he already did. With this in mind, I knew both performances would probably give me a few frights, but I was expecting to find the film infinitely scarier.
I was correct.
I have a great deal of praise for the play; I think it has a perfect mix of humour, pathos and suspense and the fact that it is essentially a two man play (if we discount the Lady in question) allows the range and the talents of the actors to manifest themselves superbly. I particularly enjoyed the way the actors bring to life the existence of Sam Daly’s dog Spider – one of many subtle ways in which the atmosphere and setting is impressively created with limited means. Having said this, aside from the times when a loud noise inevitably made me jump, I did not find myself particularly tense or nervous throughout the performance. This was backed up by the monitor; my heart rate started off at a steady 80 bpm and began to steadily drop culminating in a rather dormant 65 bpm.
This emphasised to me just how much more scope is available to manipulate and provoke the audience’s reaction when using the medium of film for the same story. The screening of The Woman in Black is a solid example of the comeback of British horror – a class that is worlds apart from the mindless ‘gore-nography’ of Human Centipede or Saw 943. On the contrary, the film sees virtually no violence but creates its atmosphere from the suggestions of that which may be lurking in the shadows, in the nursery or deep in the mud. The film also raises some chills from close-up camera displays of what can only be described as The World’s Creepiest Children’s Toys. These included porcelain dolls, homicidal looking rabbits and some dolls that looked like they’d be purchased from the gift shop just outside the Gates of Hell. Team this with the dulcet music box and a concerned looking Radcliffe being followed down a corridor and what you have, my friend, is an atmosphere. My heart rate clearly thought so too as at the climax of the nursery scene, it had reached a medically concerning 156 bpm. Considering my heart rate reaches an even 170 after I’ve been on the cross trainer for an hour, I briefly wondered if The Woman in Black might actually kill me in some sort of tragic irony.
Thankfully it did not, leaving me to write this review and encourage you earnestly to see both productions, however if scare-fuelled adrenaline is what you’re after, the film is certainly the winning contender.
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The Woman in Black is available on Blu-ray and DVD now