Directed by: James Watkins
Written by: Susan Hill (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciarán Hinds
Susan Hill’s 1983 short novel, The Woman In Black, has gone through various adaptations – as a stage production that has seen 23 years at the West End, radio plays, and even as a TV spot. James Watkins’ film version of the same story is a welcome addition. While the characters and certain aspects of the story don’t necessarily stay true to Hill’s original, Watkins’ The Woman In Black captures the spooky spirit of vengeful ghosts and creaky houses with relish, managing to stay away from the temptation of gore and pure shock value that we see too often in modern horror.
Young widower Arthur Kipp (Radcliffe) is sent on an assignment by his law firm to handle the remaining affairs of a deceased woman and sell her estate in the countryside. Easier said than done when Arthur finds the house sitting on a rather unpleasant marshland and a suspiciously tense neighborhood of superstitious villagers. That’s not to say our protagonist is without his own troubles. Having lost his wife to childbirth, Arthur leaves behind a four year old son who is well aware of his father’s depression. As Arthur’s assignment places him within the walls of mysterious child deaths and a rather possessive, deranged ghost, his common sense and polite manners are not the best attributes for dealing with this paranormal activity.
Don’t let Daniel Radcliffe’s previous gig as four-eyed Harry Potter fool you. The Woman In Black deals some genuine scares and provides a perfect transition for Radcliffe to mature from being typecast as a … wizard. While the plot of The Woman In Black is so simple and effective in a variety of mediums, it thrives on the big screen with visuals that range from creepy natural landscapes (thick fogs and marshes will do it) to small antique toys that act up on their own. Watkins proves that with a keen eye for surprises and suspense, the Victorian ghost story still hasn’t lost its edge in modern cinema. The scares might fizzle out towards the end when things that go bump can be seen in full view, but that is usually the case with most horror films. For what it set out to do, The Woman In Black accomplishes what most horror films cannot.