"A return to form for British horror..."
James Watkins terrific début Eden Lake, his only feature film before The Woman in Black, was a gripping and tense horror, so to have now returned with an adaptation of a successful stage play, it's fair to say that the pressure is certainly on the young film-maker to create an equally as thrilling film as his first, and to do justice to the established and highly popular West End production.
Daniel Radcliffe, starring in his first film since the end of the Harry Potter series, plays Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer, sent to the remote village of Crythin Gifford, to deal with the paperwork of a recently deceased woman. Leaving his son behind with the maid, he sets off, but as he arrives, the locals make it clear he isn't to go to the mansion where his work is placed.
However, given the pressure placed upon Arthur by his boss, he neglects the locals’ advice and having found an ally in local resident Mr. Daily (Ciarán Hinds), he is taken to the supposedly haunted mansion to begin his work. However, despite his cynicisms, Arthur keeps detecting a woman in a black outfit lingering around the house, and as a result, every time he returns to the village a child dies of unforeseen circumstances. It transpires that the woman that he keeps spotting, is the unforgiving ghost of a scorned woman, unable to cope with her own son’s death, otherwise known as 'The Woman in Black'.
Where The Woman in Black stands out to other supernatural horror movies, is within its simplistic, yet effective story. Based on the novel by Susan Hill, it tells a straight-forward and terrifying tale, setting it apart from films such as The Awakening, which may also be eerie and chilling at points, but tells too complex a story and tries too hard to tie loose ends together that are quite simply incompatible.
Many films of the horror genre struggle with their conclusion. It's easy to scare an audience, with suspenseful music, jumpy scenes and pale children, but often films rely too heavily on the horror effects and disregard the actual story at hand, but fortunately this isn't the case with The Woman in Black, as having been such a prominent stage play over the past decade, it also relies on its substantial storyline as well as its elements of horror.
Radcliffe has certainly chosen well with this particular feature, as although questions must be raised about his acting credentials, within this film he is merely a cipher, with the solitary role of looking afraid and walking around darkly lit rooms (sound familiar?), whilst the important stuff happens around him. It is also quite strange to see him play a father, but then again, as an audience we'll have to get used to him growing up one day.
But his performance is mostly unimportant, as the key aim for the film-maker is to scare the audience, and that is a given as far as this film is concerned. With a host of the scariest looking toys you'll ever see, children, and ghosts, it has all the makings of a traditional horror, and is exactly that.
One particular sequence lasts for what felt like half an hour, as the horror almost becomes too much, inundated with anxiety, worrying about what may be lurking in the background, so much so that you never truly look at Radcliffe when on screen, but rather at what may appear behind him. Every time the Woman in Black is spotted it sends a chill down your spine. I kept hoping that Radcliffe would whip his wand out and attempt to get rid of her with an Expelliarmus.
Yet as with any horror film, there are always some misgivings. The ending comes about too abruptly, as whilst the audience are still trying to figure out how the film will conclude, Arthur seems to have it all worked out, with little reasoning as to how such conclusions have been met. Watkins also relies too heavily on the jumpiness as a source of horror, and despite falling for it each and every time, it certainly reaches a point of tediousness, and perhaps more psychological horror would have been beneficial.
However, the film remains mostly scary throughout, telling a compelling story, set amidst foggy and dark surroundings, whilst featuring the scariest of horror movie subjects; unnervingly harmless looking young girls. Therefore the film must be commended, as what is a return to form for British horror, The Woman in Black ultimately does what it sets out to do, which is to be absolutely-bloody-terrifying.