‘Woman in Black’: ‘Potter’ star’s a good fit for scary film


The Wo­man in Black of­fers up some old-fash­ioned scares — a nice con­trast to the gore that is so pop­u­lar in hor­ror movies nowadays. This means there is no blood and guts or knife-wield­ing killer, but the movie still man­aged to eli­cit some jumps and shrieks from some of the people in my screen­ing audi­ence.

Really, though, the most not­able thing about the low-key ghost story is the star. The Wo­man in Black marks Daniel Rad­cliffe’s first post-Harry Pot­ter role. There’s no more hid­ing be­hind a wand for Rad­cliffe, or turn­ing to his friends Ron and Her­mi­one.

The Wo­man in Black is a good move to­ward more adult fare for him, though it is a bit strange see­ing Rad­cliffe play a fath­er since he’s so young. Still, if you’re a fan of Dan, he doesn’t dis­ap­point while con­vin­cingly re­act­ing to the scares with fear and sus­pi­cion as they un­fold. And this is quite a feat — he is in just about every scene.

Based on a 1982 nov­el by Susan Hill, the movie takes place in Vic­tori­an Eng­land with Ar­thur Kipps, an early-20-something wid­owed fath­er who works as a so­li­cit­or (or law­yer, as those of us across the pond would say).  His wife passed away dur­ing child­birth and now Ar­thur is a single fath­er to a 5-year-old son. He’s been tasked to travel from the city to the rur­al coun­tryside to handle the es­tate of an old wo­man who re­cently died.

The townspeople are wary of Ar­thur’s pres­ence; they know the old wo­man’s house to be haunted by the venge­ful “wo­man in black” who comes for their chil­dren as re­venge for her child that died. Ar­thur makes friends with a loc­al couple, Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds) and his wife (Janet McT­eer). Like many oth­ers in the town, the Dailys’ son mys­ter­i­ously passed away as a child. Though it has been more than 20 years, it’s clear that Mrs. Daily has nev­er quite got­ten over los­ing their son; her men­tal an­guish is par­tic­u­larly on full dis­play dur­ing one din­ner scene. The ref­er­ence to her dogs as “the twins” was one of the few mo­ments that got some laughs.

In the house, Ar­thur ex­per­i­ences all sorts of strange noises and sees shad­ows lurk­ing in the dark halls and win­dows. His re­fus­al to leave is al­most com­ic­al, be­cause I’d be run­ning for the hills in­stead of in­vest­ig­at­ing where a noise is com­ing from. It’s ex­plained that Ar­thur doesn’t leave be­cause his job is on the line and he needs the money.

The story moves slowly; in fact, not much ac­tu­ally hap­pens from start to fin­ish. Ba­sic­ally, a de­ranged ghost lady wants re­venge so she forces chil­dren to their deaths. Dir­ect­or James Watkins builds an­ti­cip­a­tion that something bad is go­ing to hap­pen each time the mu­sic cres­cendos (and this hap­pens a lot).

The Wo­man in Black is a movie that suc­cess­fully spooks the audi­ence with Vic­tori­an toys and creepy dolls that spon­tan­eously move, a creaky old haunted house and ghosts of de­ceased chil­dren.

All of this works to provide a ser­vice­ably scary movie, but noth­ing that’s go­ing to leave you toss­ing and turn­ing or hav­ing dis­turb­ing night­mares. Since the pur­pose of a hor­ror flick is to scare, rather than gross you out with a blood­bath, I’d say The Wo­man in Black gets the job done. ••

 Movie Grade: B


You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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