The Woman in Black
Disappointingly bland ghost story finds Daniel Radcliffe in fine form post-Potter. Plenty of jumps, but few chills.
Heralding the grand return of the legendary Hammer studios, The Woman in Black was all set to be a terrifying ghost story, chilling cinemagoers with a fresh adaptation of Susan Hill’s famous short novel. As it is, the film is a boringly competent and cliché-ridden one, which provides a couple of successful moments but little more.
A big draw for many audiences here is Daniel Radcliffe – and pleasingly his first post-Harry Potter film project finds the star in decent form. Possessing an ideal face for a jumpy horror film, it is difficult to imagine other actors doing “frightened” as effectively as Radcliffe, who looks permanently haunted as Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor dispatched to the rural North to put in order the affairs of a late client. His character initially seems far too old for him, gazing into a shaving mirror with a razor held almost suicidally at his throat, the 22 year old does not seem a convincing father figure to his four year old son. Thankfully Radcliffe does show the ability to get around the slightly awkward casting by force of his tortured performance. The cynical view here is that his presence in the film (by no coincidence a 12A) is a sure fire numbers boost as legions of Potter fanatics flock to see their hero in action. Whilst this will undoubtedly prove to be an effect, Radcliffe cannot be accused of cashing in here, ably taking on the conflicted lead role.
Of course, what makes or breaks a ghost story are the frights, of which The Woman in Black unfortunately gets the balance totally wrong. There are one or two subtly chilling moments, usually in the lengthy dialogue-free sequences in which Radcliffe explores the creepy old house by torchlight, but the vast majority of The Woman in Black is, simply put, not scary enough. Although Jane Goldman’s screenplay and James Watkins’ direction cranks up the tension, it feels workmanlike as we are dished up yet another lame “face scare” in place of anything memorable or shocking. Jump after jump are thrown at the audience, until we simply become bored of spotting creepy faces at windows. The pacing feels clichéd, with almost every scene feeling derivative and over-familiar to even the most casual of horror fans – the beat and rhythm of each scene follows such a predictable pattern that by the time the pre-assigned moment for us to jump comes, we are fully expecting another loud noise, or sudden movement, leaving it to fall flat. This is disappointing considering the creative team behind the film, but unfortunately The Woman in Black just feels too obvious.
All is not doom and gloom, however. The period design is wonderful, with a very real sense of the story’s Gothic setting oozing from every frame. The sets, costumes and level of detail all conspire to ground us completely in the films world. The main bright spot here, though, is the sound work. Most noticeable in the aforementioned solo scenes, each step Radcliffe makes is greeted with a symphony of creaks, groans and cracks as the old house becomes almost a character in itself. This builds up such a thick atmosphere that even the rather boring screenplay is infused with a tension which allows one or two of the jumps to really work at maximum effect.
Horror aficionados, then, should steer clear of The Woman in Black, but for those willing to forgive a barrage of clichés and enjoy an average ghost story which looks great, sounds great and features some fine performances will find one or two very effective scares here. Radcliffe shows there is more to him than Potter, but perhaps the most encouraging aspect is seeing the Hammer name put in front of a film once more. The Woman in Black is already doing good business at the US Box office, and so this revival of the iconic studio will hopefully be set to continue - just hopefully with something more original than this disappointing effort.