Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a still grieving widower with a young son who is given an ultimatum by his boss at the law firm, succeed in a task or lose his job. The task? To get all the papers in order and handle the estate of Alice Drablow and the sale of Eel Marsh House. Sounds simple enough, but when Arthur arrives in Crythin Gifford he is treated with animosity by the locals who attempt to send him back. Arthur ignores their demands and persuades someone to take him across the marsh to the remote and isolated house. Once there Arthur sets about his business but is disturbed by noises and movements and is convinced he sees the figure of a woman in black in the grounds. The ghostly apparition remains in Arthur’s thoughts and when he returns to the town he is met with a devastating incident. But Arthur perseveres with his job and soon he believes he knows the link between the strange goings on and the woman in black.
I was extremely sceptical of Daniel Radcliffe being convincing as a father and a husband in this film and whilst I still believe he was miscast he does do a decent enough job of portraying a grief stricken young man. Perhaps one reason he gets away with it is a lack of dialogue particularly in the house scenes which allows us to forget momentarily that he was Harry Potter. Despite this immediately established negativity towards the film, The Woman in Black is a deliciously atmospheric British ghost story and has many positives. There are a few genuine scares and jumps to be had and the titular woman in black is cleverly treated as a ghostly monster which provides all of these scares. The special effects are subtle and extremely effective. The production design by Kave Quinn is satisfying in the sense of the stereotypical Victorian ghost story, with plenty of foggy cobbled streets, eerie houses and creepy clockwork toys.
The story is decidedly simple and unfortunately rather predictable and it is these aspects that really let the film down. I am not one to criticise a simple story but this felt like there just wasn’t enough substance. The film is full of plenty of horror conventions, from the self-rocking rocking chair to candles being blown out, and whilst it never uses them in a new way they are enjoyably stereotypical. The focus on the suitably macabre mechanical toys is a great touch and the film is nicely shot throughout. Director James Watkins proves he is consistently adept at directing a gripping horror film, his first effort the brutal Eden Lake (2008), and the film is the perfect length.
Radcliffe’s supporting cast all do a brilliant and convincing job and there is a bit of humorous relief as we see Mrs. Daily (Janet McTeer) dress her two dogs up and treat them like babies, it is these small details that prevent the film from being run of the mill. However, The Woman in Black is not too far from being mediocre and for horror fans it may be quite an anti-climax. For younger audiences and those new to the gothic horror genre The Woman in Black will certainly serve a purpose. If you enjoy a classically told tale that conforms to conventions rather than defies them then there is definitely enough to enjoy in this film.
The Woman in Black is an enjoyable formulaic gothic ghost story that proves Hammer still has it but for how long?
There are a substantial amount of extras including a decent and insightful making of, a good featurette on the film with red carpet bits, brief interviews, film stills and behind the scenes galleries which could be better, galleries of production design and storyboards which show four scenes broken down, as well as the usual trailers and a weird bit where Daniel Radcliffe reads a ghost story which later becomes apparent it is a competition winner’s story. Overall, a generous amount of extras.
The Woman in Black will be appearing on DVD and Blu-ray on 18th June 2012.
Director: James Watkins
Writers: Susan Hill (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds
Runtime: 95 mins
Country: UK, Canada, Sweden