The previews for Woman in Black are of the green-tinted night camera variety, showing "candid" audiences' reactions of fright. This is the same technique employed by the Paranormal Activity franchise to sell tickets. To me it's the film equivalent of restaurants showing faded pictures of their food in the window - never a good sign. It's a shame the marketing research team resorted to this kind of advertising because in actuality this is an old school Victorian gothic ghost story that qualifies as decent horror.
This atmospheric retro-chiller, set in an isolated Yorkshire village, is a production of England's revived Hammer label and features a post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe in his first grown up role. The foundation for the story is screenwriter Jane Goldman's adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 novel, which also gave birth to a radio series, TV movie and long-running West End stage play. While the highly unoriginal title needs some sprucing up, in the context of this movie it suffices.
The long and short of the plot is that Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), is a recently widowed lawyer sent to a remote village to put a deceased eccentric's affairs in order. Kipps discovers that his late client's house is haunted by the spirit of a woman and that no one is safe, especially children, from her terrible wrath.
His initial arrival in the township is greeted by weird stares, people peering through windows and a general standoffish vibe from the villagers who are obviously hiding a dark secret. This creates a nice sinister, mysterious and foreboding atmosphere.
The only person who is friendly is Samuel Daily (Ciarán Hinds), a wealthy skeptic whose wife (Janet McTeer) has gone mad after losing their young son. You figure Daily is either going to be a big help, turn evil or croak by the end of the movie. Don't worry; I won't spoil it for you.
Director James Watkins (Eden Lake/ The Descent 2) holds the eerie feeling steady with an Edgar Allen Poe touch, including foggy London shots, dark bogs and mucky marshes, windup dolls and toys. All this is set to beautiful shots engulfed in a strange string-laden soundtrack.
Watkins innovatively builds suspense in the flick's quieter moments, allowing quick glimpses of what could be lurking in the corner. This effect works better than the full-on big, white, scary face that zooms at the screen looking like it was yanked right out of The Grudge. However, Watkins focuses way too much on big loud scares, accentuated by what sounds like someone whapping a kettle drum with a metallic gavel. The jumps, scares and jolts go over the required limit, especially in the movie's midsection. Ultimately, the film keeps you on the creepy edge of your seat by relying on eeriness, not gore.
I generally hate haunted house movies, but I've decided that if a house is going to be haunted it should at least be creepy, like this one. I think we're all tired of these new modern haunted house films where nocturnal entities terrorize suburbia.
Luscious and corny with a hokey ending, this flick resolves into a little too easy of a solution. Woman in Black also needs more heaped on chills and thrills, like Sam Raimi's manic Drag Me to Hell. It seems the filmmakers believed in keeping the movie true to horror flick predecessors like Roger Corman's The Terror (with Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson). Reminiscent of these icons of yesteryear, Woman in Black is a tasteful, old-school fright-fest, emphasizing suspense and ominous foreboding and, despite the bland name and misleading previews, delivers an adequate experience.
The Woman in Black
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds
Directed by James Watkins