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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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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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