Something’s been gnawing at me ever since the lovely Mrs. and I strolled out of The Woman in Black two weekends ago. I had the sneaking suspicion I had seen this film before. I’m not referring to the British telefilm from 1989. I couldn’t shake the J-Horror influence I mentioned in our review or how much it reminded me one specific film.
Then it hit me. The Woman In Black is a remake of The Ring (which in and of itself is a remake of Japan’s Ringu. The snake keeps eating its own tail)!
Before we go on, a word regarding spoilers. Venture forward at your own peril because many there will be. Phrases like “and then this thing happens that’s a lot like something that happened in the other movie too, take my word on it” copied and pasted for a handful of paragraphs would be an abhorrent waste of your time and mine. We have standards here people. I’m not saying we set high standards, but if our standards were an obstacle in the road, they would at least represent a minor obstacle, perhaps even an annoyance, to get around.
Let’s start with the basic premise of both stories. In The Ring, anyone unfortunate enough to view Samara’s art school short film dies one week later. In The Woman in Black, a sighting of Jennet Humfrye’s ghost signals the impending death of a child. There’s a notable difference in specter’s modus operandi in the latest film from the source material and previous adaptations. In the other versions, her appearance acts as an omen. The Hammer update sees the spirit taking on a more active role in bringing about death. Instead of appearing to a random, unconnected person, Jennet Humfrye materializes before the children. Through unspoken suggestion she seems to compel the children to drink lye, take long walks off sort piers, hurl themselves off tall buildings or set themselves on fire. To be fair, how those activities are known to be near and dear to the hearts of children with or without a ghost pulling their little puppet strings? The newest film’s more aggressive approach to the spirit’s demeanor falls very much in line with the vengeful, stringy haired ghosts of J-Horror. At a minimum Goldman and Watkin’s approach sharply contrasts the more implied terror of previous adaptations, where aural cues and subtle incidents within the home built up a steady sense of foreboding.
Next let’s look at our leads. Naomi Watts and Daniel Radcliffe’s characters share similar traits. The former plays a workaholic single mom burdened with a son she has no time for until she places him in harm’s way while researching her story. Radcliffe plays a morose widower who finds it difficult to spend time in his son’s presence as he reminds him too much of his lost love. Both prioritize work over parental obligations, Watt’s reporter by choice, Radcliffe’s lawyer as a last ditch effort to keep his position and avoid the bread lines. While Misha Handley cannot go toe to toe with the dead eyed creepiness David Dorfman’s Aiden, both films feature kids that enjoy doodling gloomy, soul-crushing refrigerator art.
The climax of both films share many similarities. Both Kipps and Watts’ beleaguered Rachel apply a rational solution to a supernatural dilemma. Watts ends up waist deep in years old rainwater in sewerage in order to dredge up Samara’s corpse. In a similar move, Radcliffe finds himself submerged in the boggy Causeway in his attempt to exhume Humfrye’s deceased son. Both characters conclude the only way to end the horror is to put the dead’s spirits at ease, either through a proper burial or by reuniting mother and child. Of course, in both cases the attempts reek of futility. Both leads learn that the dead no longer adhere to the rational idea of cause and effect. Samara’s reincarnated ghoul and Humfrye’s ghost act more like independent forces of nature fueled by an unquenchable rage and self righteousness.
Smaller parallels tie the films together. Both films partially take place on an island (in the case of WiB, it’s only separated from the mainland part of the time, but it’s still essential to the story). Horses meet watery graves in both films. Verbinski and Watkins both include a creepy reveal concealed beneath tattered wall paper. Both films feature ancillary characters sporting a Melvins tee shirt (this one might be a stretch).
Obviously we’re just trying to have fun here. I’m certain that when the producers if The Woman in Black sat down to come up with ideas no one said, “We need to rejig The Ring for the Downton Abbey crowd”. Still, if the most skeptical of you have to admit there’s more than enough similarities that it can be deemed more than coincidence. As would-be Tenenbaum Eli Cash once said “Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't.” While it would be a stretch to call The Woman In Black an outright remake, I argue that CBS Films and Hammer Studios looked at the blueprint of The Ring and did their damndest to emulate it. The Ring may have been the first PG-13 horror film that dialed down the violence/language in order to draw in the younger crowd while crafting a smart enough story to lure in adults. Both films prey on parental fear of being unable to protect their children from inevitable doom. The folks behind The Woman in Black borrowed enough elements from the former to try and duplicate its success.