Re-Scaring Myself: Giving “The Woman In Black” A Second Chance

Back in February 2012, when The Woman in Black came to theatres, it was also a very significant time for my mom. It was her first Valentine’s Day as a single woman after having separated from my father almost a year prior. I decided that I would be my mom’s date that year. And what prompted that decision were some trailers we had seen for The Woman in Black.

That was the first film Daniel Radcliffe had starred in since end of the Harry Potter films, and my mom really enjoys those movies. Plus, it’s a period piece, something my mom also really enjoys. And to tie it all together, the trailers we had seen presented this film as a mystery, and we both love mysteries. In short, it seemed like the perfect choice for a Valentines dinner-and-a-movie date.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

At that time in my life, I was fairly new to the horror genre. I mostly stuck to books, and I found horror movies too scary. Really, the only horror movies I watched were adaptations of books I had read, along with a few classic (and not-so-scary) films from the 70s and 80s. I liked the stories, but I didn’t always like the scares. So even though I would read just about any horror novel (mostly Stephen King), I would read synopses online rather that watch horror movies. Yes, the person who does horror movie marathons every Halloween didn’t like to watch horror films. I also had a strict rule about horror films because of a traumatic past experience: no ghosts. I could not handle movies that had ghosts or vengeful spirits from beyond the grave. They were a whole other level of scary for me.

My mom can usually handle horror films if they’re not too scary or too gory. Even some of the milder media I’ve consumed over the years would probably make her uncomfortable. But she’s like I was in that she prefers the story aspect of horror films.

So imagine how surprised (and terrified) we were when it suddenly became clear to us that the period piece mystery we were watching was also a scary ghost story. Oh sure, we enjoyed the story aspect of the film, but we didn’t expect to spend a good portion of the movie watching through our fingers and whispering to each other “Is it over yet?”

That first night that Kipps (Radcliffe) is in the house after dark… Yeah, that was too much for us. The image of that rocking chair still haunts me to this day.

But then, almost nine years later, I saw that The Woman in Black had been added to Netflix and thought, “Maybe I could survive it this time.” Enough time had passed, and I am much more experienced with the horror genre. Plus, now I binge watch horror movies for fun (including ghost stories). Surely I wouldn’t find it scary this time around.

The re-watch was off to a good start when I laughed at the Netflix rating that showed up in the corner of the screen. PG-13. I, the person I am today, was once terrified of a PG-13 movie. Hilarious.

Once I got my giggles out of the way, the rest of the viewing went well. From the opening scenes, I could see exactly why I had been drawn to the film during its theatrical release. And I could also tell that this was the kind of film I was going to enjoy. Stylistically, it’s my cup of tea and almost reminds me of a few more recent favourites, like The Lodgers (2017). The cinematography sets the mood perfectly, and the story interested me just as much as it had all those years ago.

And now with a film degree under my belt, I was able to take a more analytical approach to scenes I remembered and scenes I had forgotten. I particularly enjoyed picking apart the character Mrs. Daily (Janet McTeer). Rather that portraying her as simply a grieving woman, she was shown to be insane. Personally, as a devoted pet parent, I see nothing wrong with treating your pets as your babies (although, yes, she did go a little overboard on that one). And it was a little frustrating to see her grief dismissed as madness. However, it makes sense for the plot. She would be such a helpful character in solving the mystery/ghost problem if she wasn’t heavily medicated every time she connected to the spirit world. But, then again, it would make things too easy for the hero of the tale if she gave him all the answers right away. Besides, Kipps needs to believe in the Woman in Black first before he is ready to hear what Mrs. Daily has to say. But it is still frustrating that the women in this film are either seen as helpless and/or insane in some way. Even the titular woman herself is mentally unfit to raise her own child.

So, it looks like everything’s going well with the re-watch. I’m enjoying it, I’m analyzing it. Totally not scared, right?

Wrong.

Honestly, I think it was the deep rooted memory of the fear that scared me more than the film itself. I had been so scared when I watched the movie in theatres that some part of me expected to reach that same level of fear. When those rocking chair scenes came up, I got chills down my spine and everything. I feel like if I had watched the film for the first time this year, with no pre-established fear or expectations, I might not have found it as scary. Still, at least I was actually able to watch all of the scary scenes this time. Since I wasn’t watching through my fingers, I actually saw things I missed the first time.

All in all, this was a successful re-watch. In fact, now I’m inspired to try to go back and watch the horror film that traumatized me the most in my pre-horror fan years: The Grudge (2004). Who knows, maybe I’ll muster up the courage to tackle that one some day.

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