Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Why the success of The Woman in Black is disappointing

In 2012, just about everybody saw The Woman in Black. Teenagers shrieked in their seats, adults were reduced to teenagers, and I was bored. The Woman in Black was easily one of the dullest cinematic experiences I’ve had watching a film, especially a horror film. Now don’t get me wrong; I admire The Woman in Black.

Quite frankly, I admire any horror film in the 21st century that gets to number one at the box office, and takes over £127 million. It is also refreshing to see such a classic style of filmmaking; so often now, we see either depressing found footage nonsense like Paranormal Activity, or torture porn like Saw, that to see a proper, 70’s style ghost film, and one so bleak, is excellent. That, however does not excuse The Woman in Black for the shoddy film it is; it just makes it easier to bare.

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So, now you’ve read that I admire The Woman in Black for taking so much money, you’re probably thinking I’m a massive hypocrite for saying its success disappoints me. You see, while happy I am that The Woman in Black was a successful horror film, I can’t help but be disappointed for all the better films that were reduced to flops, while a film as predictable and inert as The Woman in Black was a hit. Many modern horrors have been superior in just about every way, and many have been lost in the box office shuffle, doomed to only be appreciated by lowly film nerds like myself. Let’s take a look at some of the best:

The Devil’s Backbone (2001):

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Guillermo Del Toro is now most famous to audiences for either the outstanding Pan’s Labyrinth, or the Hellboy series, so this ghostly chiller from 2001 tends to get lost in the shuffle of his back catalogue, which is a shame, as it is a terrific film that really laid out the blueprints for Pan’s Labyrinth. Following a young orphan during the Spanish civil war being haunted by a ghostly child, The Devil’s Backbone features great performances from child actors, some spine tingling chills, and a somewhat retro approach to its haunted house motif. However, looking at the figures, when it was released in the US, it only took in just over the $6 million dollars, relatively low compared to its $4 million budget. Disappointing then, but at least Del Toro would redeem himself by making an Oscar winner five years later.

The Awakening (2011):

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Out of all the British horror films to be released after 2000, this is the one closest to what The Women in Black wants to achieve. 2011’s The Awakening follows a Victorian supernatural investigator, played by the brilliant Rebecca Hall, who begins to question her beliefs when invited to rid a boarding school of what they believe to be a ghost. Though divisive with critics (a fairly middling score of 56% from Rotten Tomatoes), I found The Awakening to be a brilliant effort; though slightly predictable in thrills, it more than makes up for it with a dread filled atmosphere, terrific performances by Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton, and above all, a fantastically nasty twist that transcended the film from decent effort to one of my favourites of the year. However, The Awakening only made £2.9 million at the box office, making a fraction of the budget, and has since faded into relative obscurity, which is a real shame, as fans of The Woman in Black would definitely appreciate the supernatural scares of The Awakening.

The House of the Devil (2009):

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Now, The House of the Devil is a tricky one for me, as I myself am not a huge fan; I just found it a bit too slow for its own good, which spoiled some terrific work. However, the reason I am using Ti West’s 2009 satanic film is because it is absolutely brilliant in its use of old fashioned technique, such as the freeze frame filled opening credits, and escalating events into all out madness; some could argue it is the modern day Rosemary’s Baby. Critics also loved it, with an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and top U.S. film critic Roger Ebert describing it as “the Hitchcockian definition of suspense”.

So why is House of the Devil on this list? Because it made just $101,000 when released in cinemas. That’s it. The Woman in Black made 1000 times the money The House of the Devil made. Sure, The House of the Devil had a smaller release, and less advertising, budget, stars etc. But still, to see a film with the ambition and love for horror as The House of the Devil make a pittance is a huge shame.

So there you have it. The Woman in Black came and went and just about everyone thought it was the scariest film they’d ever seen. Perhaps it really is as scary as they say, and I’ve just seen too many horrors to be scared anymore. I disagree; I think The Woman in Black is just a predictable, derivative ghost story that pales in comparison to many more underrated thrillers.

By Harry Ford

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