Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Shaun Dooley, Lucy May Barker
Runtime: 1 hr 39 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Disturbing Images)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://www.womaninblack.com/
Opening Day: 15 March 2012
Synopsis: A young lawyer (Radcliffe) travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.
In addition to being the first post-Potter leading role for Daniel Radcliffe, ‘The Woman in Black’ is also notable for being the first British horror film to bear the venerable Hammer imprint after more than three decades. It is only their fourth after Hammer’s resurrection in 2007, but this atmospheric horror thriller adapted from Susan Hill’s 1983 novel is quite certainly their best so far and their greatest assurance at regaining the glory of their former days.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, director James Watkins (best known for his low-budget Brit thriller ‘Eden Lake’) pays homage to the oldest of old-fashioned horror thrills- the haunted house. Secluded from the nearest village by a narrow road that is only passable during low tide, the mist-enshrouded mansion known as Eel Marsh is a foreboding labyrinth of creepy hallways and secret rooms that come complete with rocking chairs and eerie-looking wind-up toys.
Anyone who’s seen such a genre flick will know that the chairs and the toys will take on a life of their own, not to mention doors that lock and unlock at their own will and shadows that flit past behind your back. But so what if the scares are nothing new? Expected though they may be, Watkins mounts these familiar elements of the genre with surprisingly efficiency, reminding us why they became tropes in the first place. Even seasoned horror fans will find their pulse quickening as the tension builds for that ‘boo’ moment, and we dare you to sit through the whole movie without getting jolted in your seat at least once.
Besides the old haunted house trappings, Watkins also effectively builds atmosphere by setting the mansion amidst a remote Yorkshire village of Crythin Gifford. At least to young London solicitor Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), the residents of this dank village aren’t very welcoming- the local innkeeper tells him there’s no room, and is only willing to put him up in the attic where years ago three young girls hurled themselves out of the window. The only person that displays any hospitality is- rather ironically- the wealthiest man of the county, Samuel Daily (Ciaran Hinds).
True to the nature of such rural villages, this one is a hodgepodge of superstition, believing that a ghostly wraith of a woman dressed completely in black is the reason for the string of unexplained deaths among the children in town. Samuel would have none of it despite his own son’s mysterious death, though his grieving wife (Janet McTeer) is less convinced that the said woman in black is just folklore. Arthur however has no such luxury of scepticism- his very first visit to the Marsh residence already brings an encounter with the apparition, and sets him on a determined course to find out just what happened to the inhabitants of the estate.
Those looking for some twist ending will likely be disappointed as the revelation itself proves slightly underwhelming, but screenwriter Jane Goldman overcomes the shortfall of her source material by raising the stakes for her lead character Arthur. Unlike the book, Radcliffe’s Arthur is now a grieving husband still mourning over the death of his wife who comes face to face personally with the fear and terror of the villagers when the very ghost threatens to take the life of his son arriving on a train to visit him for the weekend.
It’s a gripping turn all right, made even more so by a sharp performance by Radcliffe. Though just 22 years old, the actor exudes a palpable sense of grief, anxiety and outright terror first as the skeptic faced with the reality of his own disbelief and then as the father who has to confront the phantom to preserve the life of his very own flesh and blood. Solid supporting turns by Hinds and McTeer also anchor the movie, but it is Radcliffe who competently carries the movie most of the time, effectively rendering the two-person West End stage play into a one-man show here.
At a time when modern-day horror seems only confident of intimidating their audiences with blood and gore, ‘The Woman in Black’ deserves even more credit for assuredly relying on old-fashioned thrills for an even more effectively spine-chilling experience. Spooky hallways, rocking chairs, creaking doors and creepy wound-up dolls- you’ve probably seen them all before, but there’s a reason why we still jump when we experience them, and this solid Hammer horror is as good a throwback as any to these vintage but everlasting horror tropes
(Good old-fashioned horror that promises a thrilling, spine-chilling experience- and an assuredly competent post-Potter performance from Daniel Radcliffe)
Review by Gabriel Chong