Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Jane Goldman, Susan Hill (Novel)
commentary with Director James Watkins and Writer Jane Goldman, and 2 featurettes (“Inside The Perfect Thriller: Making Woman in Black”, “No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps”).
I guess there is life after Harry Potter.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young, widowed lawyer sent to Eel Marsh House in England to resolve the muddled estate of a dead woman. When he arrives, he settles into working along in her older house and spies a mysterious figure in black from a distance. When he attempts to discuss the mystery with the townspeople, they are nearly paralyzed with fear as they know that the appearance of this mysterious figure always precedes the death of a child.
With the assistance his only friend in the town, Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds), Arthur must find a way to bring peace to this ghostly presence before his own son arrives the very next morning. There is, of course, a tragedy that serves as the foundation of our story as the home's previous owner died largely due to a complicated grief following the death of her own son while she'd been forcibly hospitalized in a mental institution by her sister.
Based upon a 1983 book by Susan Hill that spawned a West End stage production and more, The Woman in Black is a wonderfully retro horror thriller from a wonderfully retro and recently brought back to life Hammer Studios. The film could best be described as existing within that limited horror sub-genre of British haunted manor films that brings to mind such films as Nosferatu and the early Dracula films. The Woman in Black is filled with lots of old school chills and thrills, but remarkably devoid of gore and actual hardcore violence. There's an eeriness about the film that stays with you long after the closing credits, with the 1920's time period being perfectly brought to life by Kave Quinn's atmospheric production design, Tim Maurice-Jones' cinematography and Marco Beltrami's chilling original score.
Daniel Radcliffe seems an odd choice as the lead, a widower with a 4-year-old son. The 22-year-old actor barely has enough gravitas to convince as a lawyer, let alone a lawyer who is widowed and has a young son. While there are moments in the film that Radcliffe's limited emotional range hinders a scene's effectiveness, he's actually far stronger than one might expect with a dark, brooding presence that feels like Crispin Glover light.
Radcliffe is also well matched with Ciaran Hinds, whose performance as Sam Daily contains the gravitas that one would have wished for from Radcliffe. Hinds's Daily also comes with baggage having lost his own son, and Hinds is perfectly suited as a man who is about the only person in the town who doesn't buy into the idea of this mysterious black figure. Current Oscar nominee Janet McTeer, from Albert Nobbs, only has a couple scenes as Mrs. Daily but makes the most of her brief appearances.
Moviegoers who rely on special effects, gore and ultra-violence will be likely to find themselves a bit bored by the more classic horror of The Woman in Black, though true fans of the genre will find much to appreciate and will likely sit there fondly remember many other horror classics. While Radcliffe may not give a stand-out performance, he gives a good performance that can't help but make one believe that he may very well survive life without Harry Potter.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic