Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps
Ciarán Hinds as Daily
Janet McTeer as Mrs. Daily
Sophie Stuckey as Stella Kipps
Misha Handley as Joseph Kipps
Jessica Raine as Nanny
Roger Allam as Mr. Bentley
Lucy May Barker as Nursemaid
Indira Ainger as Little Girl on Train
Shaun Dooley as Fisher
Mary Stockley as Mrs. Fisher
Emma Shorey as Fisher Girl
Molly Harmon as Fisher Girl
Alexia Osborne as Victoria Hardy
Alfie Field as Tom Hardy
Victor McGuire as Gerald Hardy
Cathy Sara as Mrs. Jerome
Tim McMullan as Mr. Jerome
Daniel Cerqueira as Keckwick
Liz White as Jennet
Alisa Khazanova as Mrs. Drablow
Ashley Foster as Nathaniel Drablow
David Burke as PC Collins
Aoife Doherty as Lucy Jerome
Sidney Johnston as Nicholas Daily
Directed by James Watkins
London lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is sent North to the small town of Crythin Gifford to put in order an estate of a client, but once there, he discovers that many of the town’s children have died in mysterious circumstances, and the superstitious towns people believe that Arthur’s presence might start the cycle anew.
Anyone who remembers those great British period horror movies of yesteryear, the large mansions enshrouded in fog, the creative production design that makes every corner of said estate creepy and bizarre, should appreciate what director James Watkins was trying to do with this adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel, which was previously adapted into a play.
Opening with a scene of little girls being coerced into jumping out of a window by an unseen being, we then meet Daniel Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps, a single father from London who must leave his son behind to travel up north for work. Once there, he receives a cold reception from the superstitious locals who think his presence will reawaken the spirit responsible for the deaths we witnessed earlier and sure enough, that’s exactly what happens. Without giving things away, Arthur learns fairly quickly who this mysterious “woman in black” is and why she’s been plaguing the townfolk’s children, but it’s never quite clear why Kipps doesn’t get out of there when he’s given the chance. Instead, he keeps returning to this empty mansion to finish his “paperwork” and then spends all his time wandering around exploring.
Written by Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass,” “The Debt”), “The Woman in Black” plays with a lot of horror archetypes from the creepy haunted mansion to the one where a stranger comes to town and is mistrusted by the creepy community. Goldman has such a strong resumé, we may have had higher expectations that she could do something far more clever with these ideas than go for the obvious. Director James Watkins (“Eden Lake”) turns that script into a lush beautifully shot film that uses long sweeping camera shots of driving across the marshland and inventive production design to establish this foreign environment, but does little to make anything that exciting, always playing things relatively safe. Because of this, we’re given an incredibly slow set-up with a lot of time following Radcliffe’s character walking through an abandoned house, examining every inch and being freaked out by every little thing, none of it particularly scary unless you’re very easily scared. As much as the film tries to hark back to vintage British horror, it tends to go for cheap and easy scares with the image of the Woman in Black appearing everywhere – faces in windows, a brief glimpse in the shadows.
Radcliffe has proven his chops as an actor but it’s hard to get past the fact he just seems too young to be taken seriously as a father of a four-year-old boy, and there’s nothing he does in this that makes us think he’s bringing more to the role than anyone else may have. The only other role of any significance has Ciaran Hinds not really doing much heavy lifting, while recent Oscar nominee Janet McTeer has an even smaller role as Hinds’ wife with a couple of decent scenes including a fun one where she flips out. You’ll certainly wish there were more of her.
The film’s biggest problem is that it takes itself very seriously despite using a fairly silly overused concept, and without giving anything away, the ending is disappointing – some might see it as a “happy ending” but it seemed pretty grim to us and it leaves things in a less than satisfying unresolved place.
The Bottom Line:
“The Woman in Black” is so wrought with clichés and cheap scares, it’s hard to appreciate it for the atmospheric vibe director James Watkins creates in establishing its period setting. Then again, if you’re just looking to watch Daniel Radcliffe walk around a house and aren’t necessarily looking for a deep or scary movie, than maybe this is for you.