Director: James Watkins
Writers: Jane Goldman (screenplay), Susan Hill (book)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White,
Running time: 95 minutes
Release date: 18 June 2012
Based on Susan Hill’s classic ghost story, The Woman in Black is the latest screen adaptation of the famous chiller. The story has been made numerous times for stage and screen, yet this latest incarnation is without doubt the most high-profile to-date.
The film stars Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) in the lead role as recently bereaved young accountant Arthur Kipps. The story focuses on the grieving young father as he battles to save his flagging career. He does this by venturing to the North East of England, in order to sort out the affairs of the mysterious Mrs Drablow, who lived at the dreaded Eel Marsh House.
The Woman in Black is a classic Victorian ghost story and the director James Watkins does an excellent job in creating an oppressive and unsettling atmosphere throughout the film. The town of Crythin Gifford is a rural town, not unlike the setting of The Wicker Man, yet Watkins manages to give it its own identity through the increasingly disturbing behaviour of the locals.
It becomes clear that events are not going to be kind to Kipps just as soon as he steps off the train at his destination. Yet the film really begins to become frightening rather than simply unnerving as Kipps arrives at Eel Marsh House. The house itself is a masterpiece of creepiness and, whilst it contains many of the tropes of the traditional haunted house, care has been taken to make it unsettling in its own way. Firstly, it is cut off from the rest of the town by a pathway which becomes flooded twice a day when the tide comes in. Secondly, and most intriguingly, is the inventory of the house, which is packed full of hideous toys and creepy Victoriana that give the house a distinct personality and almost make it a character in its own right.
This version of The Woman in Black differs from the book in a number of ways and to delve into them too deeply would spoil the film for those of you who haven’t already seen it. One significant and rather chilling difference revolves around the woman in black herself. In the book, her appearance leads to the tragic death of a nearby child, however in the film she is seen to actively encourage the deaths of children. The opening scene shows a group of small girls leaping to their deaths at the woman in black’s behest. It is a truly disturbing and startling opening.
The Woman in Black is a triumph for understated and traditional horror. The film has an unnerving atmosphere which unsettles the viewer. Jump scares do happen yet are original and unexpected, working as a stark contrast to the overwhelming feeling of dread created throughout the film. The central performance from Daniel Radcliffe is a good one yet he looks too young to have a small son; this is briefly distracting but does not detract from the film itself.
Credit has to be given to Hammer for their handling of The Woman in Black: Radcliffe is excellently cast in a manageable role for him and Jane Goldman contributes a script that does justice to Hill’s original book. The film manages to put its own stamp on a well told tale, something that fans of both the play and the book will appreciate. The Woman in Black is a must for horror fans that enjoy the more classic horror fare. It certainly provides a scary and tense alternative to the gore-soaked drudgery which has passed for horror over recent years. In addition to Stephen Volk’s excellent film The Awakening, it is safe to say that traditional horror still has an audience and the content has never been better.
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