“Have you seen her? The Woman in Black? She once lost a boy, and now she’s come back. Our parents all worry, they make such a fuss: For if she can’t find him, she’ll take one of us.”
Now this looks like a Hammer film. A subdued cool color palette, stunning Gothic set pieces, a wonderful location ripe with grieving and decaying symbolism, and genuinely scary ghosts make The Woman in Black an impressive throwback to old fashioned horror. Having been a fan of the original 1983 novella by Susan Hill and the 1989 TV teleplay for Britain’s ITV network, I looked forward to Hammer’s adaptation. I was not disappointed.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a recently widowed, single father, solicitor struggling to deal with his grief in the U.K’s early 1920s. His callous boss sends him to Crythin Gifford, a small market town in northeast East Great Britain to inventory the estate and collect the papers of Alice Drablow, a recently deceased longtime client of the firm on threat of losing his job. Arthur’s reception in the small, depressed village is almost hostile when they find out he is heading out to the Drablow estate, known as the Eel Marsh House. The locals in this inn are even less friendly than the ones in An American Werewolf in London. His only friends in town are resolute skeptic and wealthy landowner Mr. Daily (Ciarán Hinds), and his grief-stricken and slightly insane wife Mrs. Daily (Janet McTeer).
The desolate and secluded Eel Marsh House stands as the only residence on a lonely island in the middle of the moors, and the lone, winding road out to it is only available at low tide. Arthur searches the dusty corridors and forgotten rooms haunted by a malevolent spirit that attacks the children of the village whenever she is witnessed by human eyes. Unfortunately he catches a glimpse of her apparition fairly often, leading to a number of innocent children dying in town. This doesn’t exactly make him popular with the local parents.
Let me start of saying the real stars of this movie are cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones and art director Paul Ghirardani. The look of this movie is classic Gothic horror. There is an insane collection of dolls and animatronic monkeys which really lend a sense of creepiness to the whole proceedings. Some of the close ups of dolls’ eyes in candlelight that really make them seem alive. Unlike the Paranormal Activity movies, you actually get to see the ghosts, and they are quite unsettling. This has more in common with Insidious and Dead Silence with a little helping of J-Horror like The Ring and Ju-on: The Grudge.
Daniel Radcliffe gives a decent performance, but he still seems a bit young to have a 4-year-old child. The movie focuses so much on him that at times it seems a bit fetishistic. Here is a close-up of Daniel searching rooms. Here is a close-up of Daniel looking curious. Here is a close-up of Daniel acting unnerved. And so on. He sheds Harry Potter’s shadow just fine, but he seems a bit limited in his depth. One thing I never quite understood was why he accepted the supernatural happenings so easily. Also, Jane Goldman’s script fails to really give us enough dimension to his character to understand his motivations.
There are enough jump scares in this film to give you hemorrhoids, but it works with the spookhouse atmosphere and really keeps the audience on edge. If there is one fault that stands out the most, it is in the failed ending. I can only imagine this had to do with focus groups and advanced screenings, but it is all kinds of cheesy. The novel and British teleplay didn’t shy away from a downbeat ending; unfortunately, this remake doesn’t follow suit.
The Woman in Black is a fun haunted house flick that won’t hurt Daniel Radcliffe’s movie cred. It definitely has a few decent scares, but unfortunately wears them prominently on the sleeve of its trailers. If you love Daniel, you will certainly get your fill of him. I enjoyed this movie, but would have loved it if they were as fearless with the ending as Susan Hill was with the source material. Overall it is a good old fashioned haunted house story with plenty of thrills and chills.
“If we open the door to superstition, where does it lead?”