A Filmmaker's Guide to the Horror Techniques Used in 'The Woman in Black'
Study, Experience and Analysis
(Note: this article will contain analysis on the film 'The Woman in Black' and in order to get the best insight, it is recommended that you watch the film at least once over).
The Woman in Black is one of the best period horror films of the 21st Century, in my opinion. It's highly effective and contains many of the modes used in high-functioning horrors. It has a ton of atmosphere and makes for a really fun watch. Let's have a look at the themes we'll be covering in this article:
- Historical Setting
Let's have a look at the film then:
In horror films it is always a good idea to get your setting historically accurate. This is because it adds some authenticity to the film and makes the whole thing look more believable. In The Woman in Black we have a very Victorian setting complete with lots of old-world items and systems. This Victorian setting only makes the film creepier because of the fact it is set at a time known for its gothic atmosphere. Let's take a look at the frame then:
Have a look at the style of the Victorian setting here. The way in which the room is designed in a way that looks dimly gothic. The floor is made of a greyish wood whilst the colours the girls are wearing are quite muted. Notice the colour scheme of the room is very accurate of Victorian children, especially females. Of course, they're looking at the "Woman in Black" and because she is dressed entirely in black, she would stand out more.
If you wanted to do this in your own film, you need to make sure that the colours are muted but subtle. Make sure the audience doesn't notice that you're purposefully making the colours contrast; therefore, don't surround the woman in black's perimeter in white for the purpose. Just make sure that every colour is in the correct place. The colours are muted and cold, but there's bits and pieces of slightly darker colours to add shadow to the area.
The theme of death is so strong in The Woman in Black that it actually has two different functions. First and foremost, death shows us the effects of the folklore surrounding the "woman" and what she does. The second function it has is to foreshadow the death of Arthur Kipps and his child, Joseph. The fact that death as a theme has two different functions in the film means that you would have had to watch the entire film to figure out both of them. Let's have a look at the frame:
The violent deaths in The Woman in Black are the things that are most remembered in the film because they happen mostly to children. In this case we have a child who is about to set herself on fire and kill herself. She is being told to do so by the woman and, here we see the child's facial expression - it is blank. As if in a trance like state in the middle of a fire, she is about to kill herself. This presents not only the theme of death but the danger that builds up to it. The sympathy created is from putting a child in the middle of this danger and, she serves as the focal point.
If you wanted to do this then you need to make sure that the child involved is the main character in the setting of death. In your scene, you need to be able to mute the actual main character and have the child stand out in some way - in this scene, she stands out by her blank facial expression.
Abandonment is one of the themes that presents us with two different ideas: the first idea is the appearance of the exterior of the house, the next idea is the way in which the ghost travels - abandoning its usual grounds in favour of the town in order to scare and kill people. Let's have a look at how this works in frame.
Notice how we have this mossy, foggy look to the house, it looks very different to every other house in the town and far more abandoned than the rest. This is the recognition process in which the audience notices something about to go horribly wrong once the main character enters the house. The one thing you must see is the way in which the colours are used. The house is actually a normal colour, probably white in the past but the moss and dirt that has covered it have given it an ashy look, even making the windows look blackened. The sense of abandonment comes through by having the house a muted colour and then blackening the atmosphere around it; having trees and plants growing out of control also add to this sense of low maintenance.
If you would like to achieve this in your own film then you really need to concentrate on the era you are working with. If you're working with the Victorian Era, then you want to make sure your house is architecturally accurate for the time period, then make it purposefully look slightly older and have low maintenance throughout. This will produce the correct atmosphere and the formula pretty much works for most historical eras. Just be careful when attempting this on the modern era because something too old could look cliché in the modern setting.
To conclude, we have had a look at many things to do with The Woman in Black in our time throughout the articles. There are other themes you could explore if you wanted to look further into it:
- The Supernatural
Good luck on your next project!