February 3, 2012
Susan Hill (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)
Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps
Ciarán Hinds as Daily
Janet McTeer as Mrs. Daily
Tim McMullan as Mr. Jerome
Misha Handley as Joseph Kipps
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young, turn-of-the-century English lawyer in deep trouble at his firm due to a lack of performance. His boss tells him that his final chance is to travel to Eel Marsh House and take control of the estate of a recently deceased woman. A widower and, as a result, single father, Arthur realizes he has no choice and makes the journey by train with the help of a fellow passenger named Daily (Ciarán Hinds). Once there, he discovers that the town is completely stonewalling his every effort to reach the house and trying to force him to leave immediately. Only through paying the coach driver meant to take him back to the train station does he ever reach the building.
Inside, he begins to go through the paperwork but finds himself distracted by strange noises and a mysterious woman in black he thinks he sees. Upon returning to the village, the police ignore his descriptions of the strange occurrences until he mentions the woman. After a child inadvertently kills themselves shortly thereafter, Arthur finds himself the target of anger and accusations from the townspeople that he doesn’t understand. As he returns to the house with Daily’s help to continue his work through the night, however, he may come closer to uncovering the identity and backstory of the woman in black than he ever wanted to.
The gripes of many horror movie fans as of late boil down to a few keys, some of which include: PG-13 horror, overuse of CGI, and remakes/prequels/sequels. However, while The Woman in Black IS actually a remake of a 1989 TV movie (both based in and of themselves on a 1983 novel of the same name), it’s the way that it overcomes those other stereotypical problems that make it a standout. Instead of building its hauntings on a computer, the filmmakers mostly let the atmosphere build tension itself to great effect. In addition, blood and gore do spill sparingly, but this film still gets under the skin by breaking a key rule of PG-13 (and general) horror: children aren’t supposed to die.
The Woman in Black’s biggest strength is its ability to build tension from pacing and the environment. Initially, the movie is a slow burn, as tension builds via the eeriness of the townsfolk and the few things Arthur experiences at the house. However, as the story takes a darker turn, more and more crazy things begin to happen to the point where it’s hard to know when it’s safe to relax and take a breath. Thefilmmakers achieve this first by making the house literally isolated from the rest of the town by a road that floods with the tides. The house itself is dilapidated, dusty, and filled with creepy-looking knick-knacks, locked doors, and strange sights, sounds, and secrets. In fact, many of the scenes in the house are mostly dialogue free, amping up tension through toys and music boxes that activate on their own, ghostly apparitions that appear for fleeting moments, and a great, sometimes silent, performance by Daniel Radcliffe. As a result, the audience stays on the edge of their seat whenever Arthur is in the house, ready for the next scare.
The key that raises this ghost story over other tales like it, though, is its willingness to break the rules. In the original Dawn of the Dead, one of the most iconic moments comes early on when Peter finds himself forced to kill two zombie children. I’ve heard that scene described as the moment when Romero tells the audience he’s not messing around. The Woman in Black has a similar feeling from its incredibly creepy opening scene that immediately sets the tone for the rest of the movie, driving home the point that, above all else, children in this movie are NOT safe and parents may not be able to protect them. In this way, the movie hits on an emotional level in addition to the general tension and eeriness that comes with wandering around the creepy dark mansion. Blood and gore will always have their place in horror, but this movie has a deep impact of its own with barely more than a few drops of it.
The Woman in Black is an effective, atmospheric, and emotionally-charged chiller. This film is a bit heavy on the jump scares, but ultimately is essential for any horror fan who likes to get creeped out, and doesn’t mind stepping outside a few tried and true horror “rules”. Those who like The Orphanage or Drag Me to Hell will be particularly satisfied.