The Woman In Black (England 2012)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/11/12
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe

The first film in over thirty years to bear the mark of Hammer Studios, "The Woman In Black" is a conventional horror movie through and through. While it's excellently crafted and well played, the weakest element is the story. The pacing is extremely slow and very little actually happens, which makes it play out like a Japanese vengeful spirit tale more than anything else. Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a widower at the end of his rope, facing bankruptcy and trying to raise his four year old son. His last chance to keep his job at a law firm is to visit the estate of an eccentric old woman who recently died, and get her paperwork in order. Unfortunately, the old woman's house is haunted, and the locals don't take kindly to Mr. Kipps being around. His arrival also spurs a rash of freak accidents in which young children start dying, and supernatural foul play is suspected. As Kipps digs deeper into the mystery and history of the house, he risks his own life and sanity in a desperate attempt to appease the hateful spirit of the woman in black.

It's interesting to see Daniel Radcliffe in an adult role, and he is very reminiscent of a twitchy Ralph Bates from earlier Hammer films. He does a fine job and his opening scene is superb, but for the most part he has very little to do other than look sullen and scared out of his mind. The cinematic approach is very old-school, using spooky imagery, atmospheric music, deep shadows, and loud sound effects to startle the viewer. And creepy dead children are always good for raising chills. The lack of blood and gore was a pleasant surprise, given the current state of torture porn in the horror film business these days. However, apart from making you jump out of your seat every now and again, there's just not much going on in the film. The sparse back story isn't particularly deep or interesting, and there aren't any narrative surprises. It's just a vengeful spirit scaring the crap out of poor Arthur and wreaking havoc on the townsfolk. I did appreciate the unapologetic ending, though.

Fortunately, it's a great looking film and the sets, locations, and lighting are all fabulous. The music score is appropriately unsettling and the visual effects are highly effective (with the exception of a skin smoothing filter that was occasionally applied to Radcliffe, making him look overly waxy in several scenes). It's just unfortunate that the lightweight plot couldn't drive the film better and give us something to care about.