In this supernatural thriller, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a widowed lawyer whose grief has put his career in jeopardy, is sent to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric. But upon his arrival, it soon becomes clear that everyone in the town is keeping a deadly secret. Although the townspeople try to keep Kipps from learning their tragic history, he soon discovers that the house belonging to his client is haunted by the ghost of a woman who is determined to find someone and something she lost...and no one, not even the children, are safe from her vengeance.
Adapted from the novel, "The Woman In Black" by Susan Hill: Kindle/Paperback Digital Edition Nook
The Harry Potter movies have been both a blessing and a curse for Daniel Radcliffe. The blessing is that he is forever ingrained into childhood pop culture and history as the boy wizard; the curse is that he now has to continue his career under the shadow of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. In moving on from the Potter movies, Radcliffe is off to a pretty good start in Hammer Films' The Woman in Black.
The Woman in Black begins with three little girls having a tea party in their attic. Suddenly, all three get up, walk to three adjacent windows, open them and jump to their deaths. After this setup, the film cuts to Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a young lawyer in London who must leave his son for a few days to take care of a deceased woman's affairs in a small, remote village. On the train, Kipps meets a wealthy man named Daily (Ciaran Hinds from "Above Suspicion") who gives him a ride to his hotel. Daily's is the last friendly face Kipps sees, as the rest of the inhabitants of the village treat him with anger and scorn, seemingly afraid of him. Once at the dead woman's house, which is located on the outskirts of town in the middle of a bog that floods at high tide, Kipps sees a mysterious figure of a woman in black that disappears and reappears at will, stalking the house and its grounds. The next day, Kipps goes to see the town constable and, while there, a couple of young boys bring their little sister in, explaining that she drank some lye. She dies in Kipps' arms, and the villagers, knowing something that they won't tell him, try to run Kipps out of town on a rail. With Daily's help, Kipps does a little research and finds out that the town has been plagued by unexplained child deaths (all accidental suicides). While going through the papers at the house, Kipps also learns the identity of the mysterious ghost and finds out the macabre connection between the dead children and the woman in black.
For The Woman in Black, screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, The Debt) adapted Susan Hill's novel of the same name and turned it over to James Watkins (Eden Lake) to direct, and the resulting film is an awesome throwback to the classic haunted house movies. The movie is a refreshing change from the gore-laden, CG-heavy horror films of today, and it establishes that a movie can be scary without going overboard on effects, instead relying completely on a smart script and a talented cast and director. The story is masterfully told, in both dialogue and images, and the arc is both suspenseful and intriguing. The movie starts off with a bang, grabbing the viewer's attention and doesn't lose it for the entire length of the film. The Woman in Black is as terrifying as it is entertaining.
At the beginning of the film, it is a bit hard to see Daniel Radcliffe and not think Harry Potter. However, the plot is so engrossing and the film is so full of tension and fear, soon the preconceptions are dropped and Radcliffe is seen as Radcliffe, proving that he is a talented actor and that, for him, there is life after Potter.
Watkins and cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones (Snatch., Revolver) make the film look as much like an old Hammer horror film as possible, with the big, gothic mansion and the creepy-as-hell ghosts. Camera motion and depth of field are used to reveal things that may or may not have always been there, and the effect is one that makes the entire house look like it is moving and shifting, almost breathing. The old home becomes more than just where the ghosts haunt - it becomes an extension of them, an entity in itself.
The entire look of The Woman in Black is creepy. The house itself is a perfect haunted house; everything in it is covered in cobwebs, and it's full of old dusty artifacts from the old tenants. Production designer Kave Quinn (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave) does an impeccable job at making the joint look like an old abandoned mansion crawling with ghosts. There's even a terrible room filled with old toys - crazy clowns, dolls with eerie facial expressions, ferocious monkeys playing cymbals - that are the stuff nightmares are made of. The old dwelling combined with the fog and the isolation of the location make the grounds of the house horribly frightening, the perfect setting for a haunted house movie.
The Woman in Black is about as scary as a film can be while still garnering a PG-13 rating. The horror is not grotesque or gory, but moody and eerie. The movie's terror is not just one-dimensional, either. Some of the scares are cheap red-herring jumps, but those cases only serve to set up the genuine shocks. The frightening scenes are all creatively done, too, so that the result is even more satisfying - the viewer doesn't just get scared, they get scared like they didn't expect to get scared. And the only way to describe the Woman in Black herself is ice-cube-down-the-back chilling. The Woman in Black is the kind of film that follows the viewer home and hides in their closet or under their bed, waiting to creep into their nightmares.
February 3, 2012