Saturday, February 11, 2012

Movie Review: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black ***
Directed by: James Watkins.
Written by: Jane Goldman based on the novel by Susan Hill.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe (Arthur Kipps), CiarĂ¡n Hinds (Daily), Janet McTeer (Mrs. Daily), Liz White (Jennet), Shaun Dooley (Fisher), Mary Stockley (Mrs. Fisher), Tim McMullan (Mr. Jerome), Roger Allam (Mr. Bentley), Misha Handley (Joseph Kipps).

The first logo that comes on the screen during the opening credits of The Woman in Black is for Hammer, and the best thing I can think to say about the film is that it is worthy of that logo. This is an old fashioned horror film – about an outsider coming into a small town with secrets where he is clearly not welcome. This is a film that Hammer would have been proud to make in their heyday in the 1950s and 60s. Based on this film, not to mention their first theatrical film in over 30 years, Let Me In (based on the even better Swedish film Let the Right One In), I am very glad that Hammer is back in the horror movie game.

Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps young widower with a four year old son, who has let his grief get in the way of his job as a lawyer in 1890s England. He is given one last chance – travel from London to a remote small town where a rich woman has just died. They need to ensure they have the most recent copy of her will, and her mansion is full of paper work. For some reason, the local lawyer isn’t really co-operating with their efforts. So Kipps heads out on the train, to be joined by his son and his nanny in a few days. On the train he meets the richest man in the small town he’s about to get to. This is Daily (Ciarian Hinds), and he’ll be the only friendly face he sees for the rest of the film. The rest of the town does everything possible to get rid of him as soon as possible – and especially to keep him away from the dilapidated mansion that he needs to spend days in.

A movie like The Woman in Black is all about atmosphere. This is a ghost story, and one that you can probably predict where it will end up for its first frames (where three little girls simply stop playing and jump out the window – they won’t be the last children to die during the course of the movie). And The Woman in Black has great atmosphere. The mansion itself is a triumph of art direction (I couldn’t help but wonder who had to find all those wonderfully creepy wind-up toys). The movie is scary, but the scares are mainly of the boo moment variety, which isn’t exactly the subtlest way to get scares, but they are effective.

It took me a little while to accept Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role, and not just because he’s Harry Potter, but also because he seems too young to be even a young widower with a four year old son. But he settles into his role nicely. It’s not a great performance, but it is an effective one. And the supporting cast is uniformly excellent – suspicious faces all around, regarding Radcliffe with caution and fear. Janet McTeer goes all in for her crazy role as Daily’s grief stricken wife.

The film was directed by James Watkins, and this really is his triumph, as the film really is effectively directed to maximize scares. His previous film was the even better horror film Eden Lake, starring Michael Fassbender as a man, who along with his wife, gets terrorized by a group of teenagers in the woods. That was a great horror movie, and The Woman in Black is just a good one. Still, he knows how to make a good horror film – I’ll definitely be looking for his next one.

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