Review: The Woman in Black
Horror masters Hammer Films are bringing The Woman in Black from the boards of the West End to cinemas world-wide this month, with former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role of struggling young solicitor Arthur Kipps, who comes face-to-face with the feared spectre herself. The gothic ghost tale packs a few surprises and some great scares, despite feeling too predictable or foolish at times.
Adapted for the screen by Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, The Debt), The Woman in Black opens with a chilling sequence that sees three young girls, in trance-like states, calmly stepping out from an attic window to their deaths below. Afterwards, the widower Kipps is introduced as he prepares to leave London and his young son (yes, little Harry Potter plays a father of a 4-year-old here) behind for Eel Marsh House, located in a remote part of England, in order to sort out the legal affairs of its recently deceased owner. Upon arrival, he receives an icy reception from all the locals with the exception of the wealthy Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), who becomes a valuable friend and ally, as despite initial frights at the house and against repeated warnings from increasingly angry locals Kipps forges on. As Kipps continues to ignore further visions and tragic incidents, the situation becomes ever graver, placing the local children at risk from the Woman in Black.
The Woman in Black has a lot going for it. The atmosphere is outright creepy; from the desolate marshlands to the décor of the haunted Eel Marsh House, the stage is perfectly set for a frightful outing. The design of the Daily’s tomb is especially beautiful in a tragic sense. Much of the film’s scares rely on traditional horror film techniques. There are the initial false-alarm jumps followed by the proper scares that succeed more due to editing rather than being frightening images or events. The subject matter and plot progression maintain an unsettling quality throughout and at times make for considerably intense viewing. The Woman in Black is not a film that goes light on child death, and if anything, there may be too much of that here. It seems that every character is linked to the death of a child (or in Arthur’s case, the death of his wife during child-birth), nearly trivialising the occurrences. The bigger problems are linked to Arthur. As a character, he appears to be awfully slow on the uptake, needing longer than the audience is likely to in order to make some obvious connections. The actual casting of Arthur is a serious fault. Radcliffe does little to provide any gravitas to the role. His youthful, diminutive stature have served him very well over the years as Harry Potter, but here, those characteristics work against him and the character. That his emotional range appears to span across a narrow spectrum of mild concern doesn’t help matters. When partnered with Hinds, Radcliffe comes across as even more out of his depths in such a role.
Radcliffe’s *ahem* shortcomings aside, The Woman in Black is still a well-presented ghost story that is bound to satisfy its target audience. In a world where “horror” films like Insidious are deemed terrifying and prove to be successful at the box office, it’s difficult to picture the far scarier, far classier The Woman in Black not creating a sizable cinematic impact. It’s no Spanish horror, but it’s definitely streets ahead of the typical listlessness of Hollywood fright flicks. 8/10