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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Woman in Black

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service

Reputed to be one of the most frightening ghost stories ever written, Susan Hill's 1983 novel "The Woman in Black" must certainly count as one of the sturdiest: It has been adapted both for British radio and U.K. television, while the 22-year-long—and still ongoing—run of its London stage version makes that property one of the longest-lived nonmusicals in West End history.

As penned for the big screen by Jane Goldman, directed by James Watkins—and with Daniel Radcliffe headlining as barrister Arthur Kipps—the latest iteration of "The Woman in Black" (CBS) aims for a classic horror feel.

And well it might. Hill's premise, after all, offers us a remote mansion haunted by a malevolent, avenging specter.

While we're second to none in our appreciation of Gothic chillfests in which spooky creatures pop into the frame, peer out of windows or—better still—are seen in shadowy form down a hallway, this entry has a queasy and troubling feature that renders it unsettling in all the wrong ways. Not only do the proceedings include a high body count, the casualties in question are children lured to suicide by the ghost of the title.

Film being such a literal medium, one image of this kind would be problematic enough. Here they go on multiplying right up to the end.

Jennet (Liz White), the ghost of the title, doesn't kill anyone directly—she entrances them to their deaths. Her motive? Deemed mentally ill in life, Jennet had her son taken away from her to be raised by another couple. He later drowned in the body of water from which our eerie manse, Eel Marsh House, takes its uninviting name.

Ramping up the pathos, Kipps is shown to be a grieving widower with a 4-year-old son (Misha Handley). And he's in trouble: Successfully settling the affairs of Eel Marsh House represents Kipps' one chance to hang onto his job.

But with her rage reaching out from beyond the grave, Jennet, it seems, will keep on killing the children of the nearby Yorkshire village unless someone finds a way to appease her.

The fearless Kipps—one does think of Harry Potter here—finds help from Daily (Ciaran Hinds), a villager who is himself in mourning. Daily possesses religious faith of a sort, telling Kipps, "When we die, we go up there. We don't stay down here."

In that connection, some Catholic imagery—such as Daily blessing himself and the use of a rosary -- has been tossed in. But not, it would appear, for any deeper purpose than added visual effect.

The film contains numerous scenes of suicide by children and occasional gore. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.





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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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