VOD film review: The Woman in Black
James R | On 09, Apr 2016
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds
The Woman in Black is one of the scariest things ever to be put on stage. Yes, even scarier than the Teletubbies. Translated to screen, not much has changed. James Watkins opens his smart horror with three girls playing in an attic. Suddenly, they all stop, trample over their toy teacups and climb up to the window. A shadowy figure looks on from the corner. Things get creepier from there.
Why does horrible stuff happen to the children of Crythin Gifford? It has something to do with Eel Marsh House. Sent to the village to investigate its late owner, Alice Drablow, and sort out her affairs is Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a lawyer who looks a lot like Harry Potter. What he uncovers is pretty obvious, but it’s scary nonetheless.
It says a lot about writer Jane Goldman’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel that such a well-known tale still carries a chill, let alone James Watkins’ spooky direction. Creating a superbly atmospheric set, the Eden Lake helmer runs around the mansion, making things go bump every couple of minutes. Let loose in the fog outside the front door, he has even more fun, dragging a tar-covered horse and cart out of the ground in the film’s most memorable sequence.
There are a lot of cheap jumps along the way, but Watkins pulls them off with old-school flair. At times, he gets a little too caught up in the retro vibe, bringing in clockwork dolls and mechanical monkeys to freak out the audience. When the pint-sized simian starts banging his cymbals, you’ll laugh at its camp crappiness. Five seconds later, you’ll be trying not to scream.
It’s a mix of genre cheese and genuine shocks that feels right at home under the Hammer studio banner. The reason it all hangs together? Daniel Radcliffe. Despite his baby-faced appearance, he gives a mature lead performance as the lonely, bereaved lawyer. It takes you 10 minutes to forget about the boy wizard, but once he’s stalking through a swamp, axe in hand, Radcliffe’s Kipps is completely convincing. For most of the film, it’s just him on the screen by himself. That takes talent to pull off. And he has it in spades.
Sure, some of the dialogue is sloppy and the CGI is overdone, but The Woman in Black knows how to move as well as unsettle, which makes the fear more potent. Chop off the sentimental ending and it would be a proper horror classic. As it is, it’s no Orphanage or The Innocents, but it’s an enjoyably terrifying ride.