Film review: The Woman in Black (2012), directed by James Watkins
Young Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) has had a hard time since the death of his beloved wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey), and hasn’t been doing his job properly. When told by his boss to shape up or ship out, he has no choice but to travel to the North to settle the paperwork after the death of some old woman.
As he arrives in the remote village, he finds himself unwelcome, to say the least, and people are actively discouraging him to go out to the abandoned house to do his job. In fact, they insist he’s much better off heading straight back to London. Young Arthur doesn’t exactly have a choice, though, so he stays … and spooky things start to happen …
Who is the mysterious woman in black (Liz White), and if she really is a ghost, why is she haunting this place? Why does she seemingly want to kill a lot of innocent children? And how come Arthur can see her?
Also starring Ciarán Hinds as Daily, Janet McTeer as Mrs Daily, Shaun Dooley and Mary Stockley as the Fishers, Radcliffe’s godson Misha Handley as Arthur’s son, and Jessica Raine as the nanny.
Congratulations are in order here. Not particularly to Radcliffe, who actually doesn’t get to say a lot – he mainly walks around looking worried, perplexed or both; but congratulations on a film that genuinely had me at the edge of my seat, and at one time, even looking away because it was too scary! And I love that. This is what a horror film should be like!
I’m not a snob when it comes to horror films as such, but when you have a keen interest in everything spooky and paranormal, most films will leave you with a “meh” feeling for one reason or another. Often because they’re trying too hard to be scary, but forget that the scariest part is not knowing what’s going on. They also tend to rely more on special effects or screaming or blood than things that would be more plausible if it were to happen in real life.
A good ghost story needs to also be a mystery and keep the viewer in the dark. Fragile was absolutely amazing … until they started to show you the ghost over and over in an attempt to make you think “OMG THE HORROR!!!” which had the exact opposite effect on me. At that point, I just thought “meh, mystery’s gone now, not scared anymore” even though the characters were in mortal peril.
Yes, you do get to see the eponymous Woman in Black up close, but most of it are glimpses from afar, a shadow, a sudden vision, and then she’s gone again. That really works. The tension is built up as well, and the landscape brings its own eerie qualities. It’s a really good ghost story. The Squeeze thought it was a little slow, because things take time to develop, and it’s more of a mood sort of thing – to put it bluntly, it’s a period drama, but with an evil spirit lurking about. Films about evil spirits, done correctly, scare the crap out of me, and I’m all for period dramas, so this was right up my street.
I think Radcliffe is a great character in himself, but I’ve not been all that impressed by his acting skills over the years (the breakdown scene in the snow in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban … yikes!) but he doesn’t look half bad in period costume, ya know. He’s all grown up now, and has possibly had acting lessons. I find it hilarious that he plays a character who has a son of about three, when he looks so young himself. Oh well, he’ll grow into it eventually. I even managed to put aside thoughts along the lines of “it’s Harry Potter without the glasses”, at least momentarily. The more work he does outside the Potter franchise the better. For his career.
There’s a fellow Potter actor in The Woman in Black, though … Albus Dumbledore’s brother – or Mr Rochester for short: Ciarán Hinds. Wow, he’s great, I love him. His character’s missus, played by Janet McTeer, was amazing too. They make a great couple, and both are fantastic actors.
Before I run the risk of blabbering on too much about what a great film I thought this was and so on, I’ll sum it up by saying: it’s an eerie period drama that sent chills down my spine, and it’s absolutely fabulous. More horror films like this, please! Less blood splatter and screaming and more glimpses of things out of the corner of your eye that you can’t explain. That’s why The Woman in Black is like a goosebump-inducing crumpet, and The Haunting and The Shining are … well … discarded toast crusts.
4.8 out of 5 causeways.