Released: 03 February 2012, CBS Films, Hammer
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds
Directed by: James Watkins
3 stars (out of 4)
A young lawyer (Radcliffe) travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals. — (C) CBS Films
I am (without a doubt) a scaredy-cat with a very vivid imagination, so horror is not really a genre I follow in books or movies (I have NEVER finished one of Stephen King’s books). But, for some reason, I have always loved a good ghost story and when it is also rated PG-13 I figure there is a good chance I’ll make it through without spending the entire time hiding behind my hands. This worked with The Others and The Sixth Sense, so I decided to give The Woman In Black a try. Boy, am I glad I did.
This is a classic haunted house story, set in the early 1900′s in a remote village in the northeast of England (cue the ominous music). Lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) has been sent to the house of a deceased client to go through any paperwork and verify the office has the client’s last will and testament. This is also Kipps last chance to prove himself to his employer; depressed after the loss of his wife he has been struggling with work and raising his son (I guess this is to help explain why he doesn’t just leave the house after 15 minutes in its creepy atmosphere like any sane person would do). He proceeds to Eel House, and during the final leg of his journey he meets up with a gentleman named Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds), who offers him a ride to the local inn and a dinner invitation. Kipps soon finds that the villagers are hostile to his presence and will do anything to speed him back to London. He also finds Eel House to be a dark, foreboding place with doors that open on their own, rocking chairs that rock with no one in them, toys that start up randomly – and a woman in black who appears around the grounds, in the house and in the village whenever a child suddenly dies violently. And a lot of children have died violently throughout the years. With the reluctant assistance of Daily (who has experienced the loss of a child himself), Kipps is determined to find out what is going on in the house and village, and what The Woman In Black wants.
The set design, cinematography and music for this movie immediately create a tense, creepy atmosphere that draws us into the story. Kipps back story is told in short clips that fade in and out of the mist of the opening titles, so by the time we meet him we know something has gone tragically wrong in his life. I loved how this was done; it set things up beautifully. This movie really gives Radcliffe an opportunity to show how he has grown as an actor. Yes, we still struggle a bit to see him as an adult and not teenage Harry Potter, but he has obviously worked hard on his acting and it shows in his eyes and expressions throughout the film. The sadness, worry and fear he is able to project greatly adds to the tension throughout; let’s face it, if our lead actor can’t pull off fear in a ghost story it is all going to fall apart. I am a fan of Ciaran Hinds, so it is always nice to see him on the screen. In this movie, he also has the chance to show sadness, worry and fear as his character has lost a son and has to deal with the fragile emotional state of his wife. At first an unbeliever in the supernatural, he is slowly brought to realize there is a lot more in the world than can be seen with the naked eye and that his fellow villagers may not be just superstitious.
I found myself with my shoulders up around my ears from tension throughout this movie; it is one of the most atmospheric films I’ve seen in a while. The horror is built with this atmosphere and music – there is minimal dialogue, little blood (so when it shows up it is more shocking), and some jump-in-your-seat moments that keep you nervous throughout. It is very much a classic ghost story, with a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming (the girl behind me kept saying “I called it, I called it,” but even she didn’t expect quite how it turned out; by the way, she loved it).
I would recommend seeing this on a big screen in a darkened theater; the color palette throughout is very monochromatic with a lot of grays, blacks and browns so much of the detail will probably be lost on a small screen (depending on your TV it could turn out very muddy indeed). The brief splashes of blood, candle flames, and Radcliffe’s extremely blue eyes provide most of the color.
Chilling atmosphere, a creepy leading lady, a haunted hero and a twist at the end add up to a great ghost story. And it is especially nice to see the classic horror production company Hammer revived and providing us with this fare. I look forward to seeing if they continue with this type of film in the future and don’t simply turn to the slasher/torture films that seem to permeate horror today. I’ll definitely be adding The Woman In Black to my collection when it comes out on blu-ray so I can see it whenever I feel the need for a bit of a scare.