The Woman In Black (2012) Review

The Woman in BlackBy Jesse Miller,

There’s nothing quite like an eerie, old-fashioned ghost tale – the mystery behind the haunting that envelops you, the charming haunted old house, the townsfolk who dare not utter a word out loud about the horror and of course, the unsettling ghostly reveals. Make no mistake, The Woman In Black is a fine example of the very effective and engaging ghost tale I’ve just described and one that will have you looking over your shoulder long after the credits has rolled.

Based on the novel of the same name by Susan Hill, The Woman In Black follows young solicitor Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), who is coping with the loss of his wife after she gave birth to their son Joseph (Misha Handley) four years ago.

Kipps is soon assigned to settle the estate of Alice Drablow, who owned a magnificent English manor, known as the Eel Marsh House, which is situated on an isolated small island cut off from the nearest town by a long stretching marsh area that, come high tide, could leave anyone on this island stranded for quite some time.

Upon arrival, Kipps is greeted with unwelcoming locals who either refuse him a room at their local hotel or anxiously state his business is done here and that he should promptly return back home. Kipp insists he needs to properly see through the paperwork, knowing that this very settlement could solve all his current financial problems, and he soon uncovers a haunting mystery about the town that is seeing young children randomly committing suicide.

The Woman In Black is Director James Watkins’ second feature film after 2008’s harrowing and brutal Eden Lake and he does an outstanding job here establishing atmosphere, from using extreme close ups of, say, old-fashioned dolls, to some excellent use of lighting and shadows.

It’s both refreshing and impressive to see that he doesn’t fall back on the old clichés and instead crafts some truly chilling and original moments out of his clever reveals. Each scare is beautifully done and crafted so much so that you think something is going to appear when really, he’s fooled you with some impressive filmmaking.

Watkins is backed up by some excellent cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones and from the threatening, dull colours of the marsh to the creeping shadows of the estate; there are some really clever and haunting moments here that I really won’t forget soon. Of course, I’d love to discuss such moments in detail, but I think this is one film that is best going into without knowing anything of it.

Daniel Radcliffe, here in his first post-Harry Potter role, turns in a solid, quietly moving and sombre performance here as Kipps. His grief and his struggle are portrayed effectively and he does a fine job throughout. My one and only complaint about him here is that he feels and looks too young for the role of Kipps. I can’t help but wonder that maybe an older face could’ve suited the role a little better by showing more of a haggard, weary expression and tiredness that doesn’t really come through with Radcliffe’s performance. Such an element that could’ve added a deeper, psychological aspect to the story would’ve been fascinating to explore.

Jane Goldman’s screenplay is intelligently written, in the sense that it lets the audience form the pieces to the puzzle and connects the dots themselves, never spelling out the mystery in one huge flashback or exposition-heavy sequence.
It’s an element that I was grateful for, enjoying being drawn into such a rich mystery. I was also grateful that she discarded cheap thrills and chills for scares a little more refreshing and effective.

The Woman In Black is the fifth film from the famous Hammer Films since their revival, and is a quite frightening gothic ghost tale that’s well worth your time. It is a film dripping with atmosphere, featuring a solid cast, stylish cinematography, outstanding directorial style and a harrowing musical score. Better yet, it just might keep you looking over your shoulder for a while.

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