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: BEndFragment