Directed by James Watkins
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: