The Woman in Black (2012) / Horror-Mystery
MPAA rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images
Running time: 95 min.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Director: James Watkins
Screenplay: Jane Goldman (based on the book by Susan Hill)
Review published May 9, 2012
Daniel Radcliffe (Deathly Hallows, Half-Blood Prince) stars as Arthur Kipps, a morose, widowed young father and struggling solicitor named Arthur Kipps, whose do-or-die assignment sees him venturing out to a small village in rural England in the early 20th Century as part of his latest case. He must dig through the paperwork of an important recently deceased client but the locals seem reluctant to assist Arthur, and look like they are frightened beyond reason, Bram Stoker mob style.
As Arthur finds himself nearly alone in his quest to complete his work in the client's secluded and quite creepy manor, he soon realizes there is a supernatural backstory to the town that sees the young children of the villagers ending up killing themselves without any rhyme or reason. As he begins to dig deeper, he finds that the strange sights and sounds in the estate hold the key to solving the mystery behind the tragic events, and he aims to get to the bottom of it before any more children have to die.
A modern Hammer Films production not terribly dissimilar to their gothic British horror chillers of old, save for better tech specs, and more emphasis -- bordering on obsession from director James Watkins (Eden Lake) -- with rampant jump-scares. To say this is familiar story would be a gross understatement. Though the script by Jane Goldman (X-Men First Class, Kick-Ass) is loosely based on Susan Hill's 1983 novel, followed by a long-running West End play, the film lifts every bit of its story, style and substance (if one can call this film substantive) from a plethora of films that have come out within the last 10 years.
Fans of ramped-up atmospherics may find their hearts race just a little at the multitude of scenarios that contrive that the protagonist must open creaky doors, peer through musty windows, look through peep holes, and a variety of other shots that allow for the sudden and not entirely unexpected vision of a scary face accompanied by shrill, piercing music notes. Perhaps the best thing the film has to offer, other than Radcliffe's capable performance (often alone on the screen with little dialogue, he is about 90% of the movie), comes through the rich gothic visual style of longtime cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones (Revolver, Snatch), who frames each scene with just the right amount of mixture of light and dark to cast a very eerie spell.
Alas, despite the competence in front of and behind the cameras, what The Woman in Black ultimately lacks is a truly compelling story, especially one that would differentiate it from the rest of an already crowded pack of PG-13 shockers. If this intrigues you, you're encouraged to watch Guillermo Del Toro's The Orphanage instead to see this material done right.
-- Followed by The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2015)
©2012 Vince Leo