The Woman in Black (2012)

Film #26: The Woman in Black (2012)

The Woman in Black is a horror movie based on the ghost story of the same name written by Susan Hill. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first non-Harry Potter film role since 2007’s December Boys. Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a solicitor living with his 4-year-old son in Edwardian era England (early 20th century). He’s a bit disgruntled, having never fully gotten over his wife’s death during childbirth, but that doesn’t stop him from getting dispatched to the English countryside to deal with the estate of the recently-deceased Alice Drablow. Center to her estate is her giant manor, the Eel Marsh House. During his time at the house, he sees the specter of a woman (in black). Soon afterward, children in the town begin to commit violent suicide, and the townspeople blame Kipps for invoking the curse of the Woman in Black.

Daniel Radcliffe is probably the most notable part of this film, and I suspect that many will watch it simply to see how he fares in a non-wizard role. To his credit, he does pretty well. Kipps is a very taciturn character, but Radcliffe avoids giving a flat performance. Here is a many clearly beset on all sides by tragedy, from those in the past to those in the present (it must be particularly difficult to have a young girl bleed out her mouth to death in your arms). His sense of duty and some stone-cold bravery keep him going in spite of everything he sees, but every haunting occurrence slowly whittles away at his constitution. Radcliffe’s terrified determination really shines through. And he wears the hell out of that period attire.

Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps

The whole production design, actually, is spectacular. It’s not just the stellar recreation of the era in costume and setting. Eel Marsh House is a masterpiece of a horror setting. The fact that it becomes an island during high tide amps up the isolation and despair that Kipps faces as he stays there overnight to get his work done. Inside the house, every corner is filled with creepy props, all of which cast endless sinister shadows on every wall. The nursery in which the Woman in Black hung herself is particularly chock full of toys and dolls that would give you nightmares if you had to sleep near them.

The first act of the film is pretty heavy on the talking, and it takes the viewer’s full attention to understand exactly what’s going on and who everyone is. Luckily, the movie rewards this concentration with plenty of background spooks. It ends up producing some very acute paranoia. There’s a constant sense that something is lurking in the background, using the shadows as cover until the time is right to strike.  After a while, you’ll spend more time looking in the dark corners for a pair of eyes or a shrouded figure than on whatever Mr. Radcliffe happens to be doing at the time. And if your search doesn’t turn anything up in a particular scene, you can still enjoy the beautiful cinematography from Tim Maurice-Jones.

Part of the long carriage ride to Eel Marsh House

The Woman in Black is a simple ghost story that successfully builds suspense around creepy imagery and some “jump” scares. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s nice to look at, and Daniel Radcliffe shows that he can carry a film even when it doesn’t take place at Hogwarts.

Final rating: 7/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Nice to see a movie not bogged down by any forced romantic story. Leave Kipps to get down to business rather than deal with a lady interested wedged into the story.
  • Gotta love chloroform as that one woman’s “medicine”. Good ole 19-aughts.
  • The Woman in Black was totally like one of those internet screamers when she showed up in the nursery.

2 responses

  1. Nice review. I enjoyed this and i don’t think i’ve ever been in a cinema so silent before. I did think it relied on cheap scares a little too often though. I’ve written a comparison of the book and the film if you fancy a read at some point…

    June 29, 2012 at 10:49 am

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    January 5, 2015 at 8:30 pm

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