The Woman In Black REVIEW

Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman In Black.

How much wood would Daniel Radcliffe chop if he could chop wood? We may never know, and it's not even funny.


Release Date: 18 June 2012
2012 | 12 | 95 minutes | £19.99 (DVD)/£24.99 (Blu-ray)
Distributor: Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment
Director: James Watkins
Cast:Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Sophie Stuckey

Hammer Films is back – properly this time. At least that was the message that seemed to be doing the rounds when this new adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 novella hit cinema screens at the beginning of this year and became the company’s most financially successful film since it was rebirthed five years ago. Here was a movie that appeared to capture audiences’ imaginations and deliver old-school chills in a period overcoat, the sort of chiller that had been elbowed aside by torture porn and tiresome teens-in-trouble shockers.

In truth, the movies unleashed by the new Hammer before The Woman In Black had been at best passable and at worst downright awful: 2008’s Beyond The Rave, initially released on the web in ten-minute chunks, is an amateurish and profane slice of nastiness; Let Me In (2010) was a well enough done but inferior remake of Swedish sleeper Let The Right One In; The Resident (2011) a fairly conventional hider-in-the-house thriller; and the same year’s Wake Wood a not unworthy but rather glum and queasy horror that was always going to struggle to find an audience.

No such problems for this popular modern ghost story, a fixture on the London stage for many years and previously filmed for television back in 1989. In this version, young lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), whose wife died giving birth to their now four-year-old son (admirers of the book: as that implies, the ending here is different) travels to a remote village to settle the estate of a deceased woman who owned a creaky old manor house. Unfortunately for him the villagers make him about as welcome as Ken Livingstone at a Young Conservatives conference, warning him to stay well away from the house and, indeed, their village. There’s something sinister around, and it might explain why so many of the village’s children are dropping dead…

A certain ex-Mr Potter is very much the star of this spook-story, and that casting decision manages to be both a stroke of genius and a mistake. It was a masterstroke in that it was his name and face on the posters that surely lured the crowds in (like the Potter flicks, you could almost term this as “a fantasy film for all the family” – it’s the sort of thing middle-class parents and their older children might happily pile into together). But it was a mistake because, as decent an actor as Radcliffe is, he doesn’t quite have the gravitas required to carry the part. He struggles to convince as the father of a four-year-old child, a tormented widower sent on a mission from which he will not flinch, no matter what supernatural frights are thrown at him.

Aside from Radcliffe, the star of the show is the art director, who imbues both the manor house and its surroundings with a wintry, doom-laden vibe that provides the platform for the numerous jump-shocks and eerie visions that interrupt the silence. And there is much silence to interrupt: Jane Goldman’s economical script might surprise (particularly if you’re not familiar with the original book), given that this is the writer of X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, where snappy dialogue bounced around like a possessed rubber ball. There are several long, long scenes where there’s no dialogue at all, where all we have to keep the attention is a worried-looking Radcliffe, nervously leafing through curling letters or catching a glimpse of something in the corner of his eye. Dialogue is so sparse at times that it’s tempting to cynically wonder how much the part is stretching the actor. These scenes also fill the running time up with what are, in the main, fairly mechanical jolts.

But there will be many who will be receptive to the plethora of apparitions, curious reflections and big bangs. If you’re in the mood for a competently made, dark and nervy ghost story with a star you’re already fond of, then you’re probably in for a fine time. It might not bother you too much that there’s only one sequence here – one involving a car pulling Kipps out of a marsh – that’s a bit different and more daringly physical than others.

Perhaps there is an audience out there for a defiantly British, old-school horror movie devoid of sex, violence and profanity. That it’s one-time purveyors of “cosy” Brit shockers Hammer Films who have come up with the hit film waving a flag for these values seems entirely appropriate.

Extras:


Director James Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman provide a commentary. You get around an hour’s worth of featurettes, including a couple of interviews with Daniel Radcliffe, a piece on the premiere in which, as is customary, various creatives say how wonderful other creatives they’re working with are, and a chat with Goldman and Watkins. You also get galleries of storyboards and production sketches, footage of Radcliffe reading the winner of a ghost story competition, and trailers.

Russell Lewin

For an alternate perspective, read our The Woman In Black review from the theatrical release.
Read our feature about 10 classic haunted house movies.
Read more of our DVD reviews.