Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: James Watkins
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Roger Allam, Shaun Dooley.
This Gothic supernatural thriller is dull and singularly lacking in decent scares, especially when compared to director James Watkins’ previous film Eden Lake, a contemporary horror film ensconced in the torture porn genre, and which starred Michael Fassbender.
Susan Hill’s 1983 novel upon which the film is based is set in rural England in 1907. The story has previously spawned a radio series, a 1989 television movie, and stage play that is, apparently, the second longest running play in London’s West End, after Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, etc) has taken a few liberties with Hill’s novel, and has managed to work in many of the usual tropes of the haunted house genre in an effort to unsettle audiences. However, The Woman In Black opts for a more subtle and muted brand of horror.
With the end of the Harry Potter series, Daniel Radcliffe has been forced to put away childish things and take on more adult roles. He proved his willingness to tackle varied and interesting subject matter with his performance in the Broadway revival of Peter Schaffer’s drama Equus, in which he appeared nude.
In this adaptation of Hill’s novel, Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young probate lawyer who has come to the small village of Crythin Grifford to assess the value of Eel Marsh House, the property of Mrs. Drablow, a recently deceased reclusive woman. The house itself lies at the end of a long causeway and is often separated from the village by high tides. Inside the house Kipps sees apparitions of a woman dressed in black, a vengeful ghost who is terrorising the locals, and who seems to be a harbinger of death for the local children. The apparition haunting the house is presumed to be in mourning for her dead child, whose body has never been recovered from the marsh.
Kipps finds the local townspeople hostile towards him. The only person who is friendly is Samuel Daily (Ciaran Hinds), who has his hands full with his deeply troubled wife (Janet McTeer), who has gone mad following the death of their twin sons. With his own four-year old son due to arrive in the village, Kipps has to somehow appease the malevolent spirit before it’s too late.
Watkin’s direction is moody and atmospheric, and he handles the material with a sense of restraint. He effectively uses the spooky soundscape and shadows of the haunted house to add to the uneasy atmosphere. This ghost story itself recalls other spooky classics like Jack Clayton’s atmospheric The Innocents, The Others and The Wicker Man. Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones suffuses the bleak, fog bound and rain drenched village with an air of menace. Kave Quinn’s production design is impressive and creates the gloomy interiors of the haunted house, while Keith Madden’s costumes reflect the period.
In his first post-Potter outing, Radcliffe is slightly miscast, as he seems too young for the role of the melancholy, widowed lawyer. His performance also seems a little tentative and uncertain. Hinds and McTeer add strong support as the deeply troubled couple who are the only ones in the village sympathetic towards Kipps.
The Woman In Black is the first new film in 35 years to be produced in Britain under the auspices of the newly revitalised Hammer Studios, which dominated the British horror movie scene in the 60s and 70s. The Woman In Black is almost old-fashioned in its approach, which eschews overt blood and gore for suspense and a more restrained sense of foreboding. But this quaintly old-fashioned haunted house thriller is slow paced and lacking in genuine shocks.