The Woman In Black is a supernatural horror movie very much in the traditional style of yesteryear when the company behind it, Hammer, had their greatest success. It’s also an important film for Daniel Radcliffe, hoping to show that he can amount to much more than just being Harry Potter. The fact that it falls short of realising its potential is a shame, because all involved do a very good job.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer still affected years down the line by the death of his wife during the birth of their one and only child. When he is sent to a remote village to sort out some affairs and put some papers in order he begins to uncover a supernatural mystery while organising the important items of the deceased. When the titular ghost starts to appear here and there, sometimes noticed by Kipps and sometimes only shown to the movie audience, deaths begin to plague the village once more.
Some people hated Insidious. I loved it. Why bother mentioning that movie here? Well, if you hated Insidious then I can’t see you enjoying The Woman In Black. Many people accused the former of having no atmosphere and having nothing in it but a series of jump scares. I disagreed. It did have a number of perfectly executed jump scares but it also had some nice atmosphere, especially considering the setting of the standard, modern household. The Woman In Black has an atmospheric setting (there’s a remote village and the time period is almost a sepia-tinged yesteryear) but does nothing with it. This movie is the one to point at and accuse of being nothing more than a series of jump scares.
That’s not to say that the movie is unlikeable. It’s got a lot of good things going for it. The cast, for one. Daniel Radcliffe may seem a bit young for the lead role but he acquits himself fairly well, for the most part (believing him as the father to a young boy is the hardest part to swallow and really isn’t entirely his fault). Ciaran Hinds, who seems to be jumping into every British movie ever made at the moment, is fantastic whenever he’s onscreen. The same can be said of Janet McTeer, playing his wife. Shaun Dooley, Mary Stockley, Misha Handley and all of the other cast members do a great job.
Secondly, the script is quite probably the second best that Jane Goldman has ever written (with her very best work still being Stardust). The character histories are nicely sketched out and the plot unfolds superbly from start to finish. It’s a really polished piece that blends an economy of style with some great little details.
Thirdly, those jump scares aren’t really big or clever but they are somewhat fun. It’s a shame that the movie didn’t make more of the material but it’s certainly a fun time at the cinema (judging by the reaction of the crowd around me in the packed screening I managed to see). Jump scares are cheap tactics, as many horror fans will tell you, but jump scares that are so finely executed and make for such an enjoyable thrill-ride are harder to dismiss entirely.
Director James Watkins shows a surprisingly deft hand with the material in the quieter moments (considering his previous, and first, directorial outing was the brutal Eden Lake) but he needs to learn that having a big, eerie house in the middle of nowhere and filling it with rooms that have rocking chairs, old toys and dolls isn’t enough to create a sustained atmosphere of dread. These things, individually, are unnerving but they’re thrown onscreen in some scattershot approach to generating audience reaction. Which is, essentially, a variation on the obvious jump scares.
The Woman In Black is a good film to watch and have some fun with. It has a number of very good moments that will make you jump or wait in anticipation of a jump. Sadly, and despite all of the elegant trimmings, it’s just another in a long line of disposable horror movies that fails to understand the “less is more” ethos of the best horror.
DIRECTOR: JAMES WATKINS
WRITER: JANE GOLDMAN (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SUSAN HILL)
CAST: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, CIARAN HINDS, JANET MCTEER, SHAUN DOOLEY, MARY STOCKLEY, MISHA HANDLEY, JESSICA RAINE, VICTOR MCGUIRE, TIM MCMULLAN, CATHY SARA
RUNTIME: 95 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: UK, CANADA, SWEDEN