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The Woman in Black - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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Based on the 1983 novel by Susan Hill and co-produced by none other than Hammer Films, The Woman In Black explores the ever-uplifting subject of death and its effect on life. Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame stars as the young Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming solicitor who travels to a small country village during the Edwardian era to handle the deceased estate of a woman named Alice Drablow, the owner of an old mansion now abandoned. Immediately unmistakable are elements that helped to define the classic horror story: the faraway village, the old, empty mansion that we just know is haunted, as well as the damp, foggy and always overcast weather. Mind you, it is of no coincidence these elements play a vital part in the film, because as I mentioned earlier this was co-produced by Hammer Films, the studio that found mainstream success with supernatural horror flicks during the 1950s, namely The Curse of Frankenstein [1957], Dracula [1958] and The Mummy [1959]. Many visual elements in The Woman In Black work to great effect in re-creating the tone of these gothic horror classics. Furthermore, the film doesn't rely heavily on on-screen special effects, but rather slightly obscured objects and figures that increase the sense of paranoia and mystery.

We learn as Kipps does that the old mansion and the village is being watched over by the spirit of a woman who had lost her son and had always blamed Alice Drablow for his death. As a result, all the children in the village are systematically dying, presumably committing suicide under her trance. With the help of a local landowner (Ciarn Hinds) and his grief-stricken and unstable wife (Janet McTeer), Kipps is out to rid the village of its plague of death.

Daniel Radcliffe as the tormented Arthur.

With the film's steady pace, we are kept in the dark quite literally also as to the meaning of what's happening until about halfway through when I suddenly figured it out and waited for Kipps to catch up with me, whereas it should be other way round. Director James Watkins does well to create a sense of time and place, while constructing a believable and very suspenseful atmosphere in which the paranormal takes place. Thankfully, it doesn't become the old story of "the hero sees a ghost and nobody believes him, then he's persecuted for being mentally unstable". Instead, everyone knows the woman in black exists but only Kipps will try and stop her by attempting to reunite her with her son, because his body was never recovered from the marsh in which he drowned.

The movie is indeed a suspenseful experience I jumped a few times but also it is finely dramatic through the Kipps character, who suffers depression from having lost his own wife giving birth to his son, now a young boy. This gives this otherwise basic horror story a little bit of depth, which Radcliffe pulls off with sincerity and integrity. It's clear that Radcliffe is out to impress with this film being that it's a stretch from the Harry Potter films, and I give him full credit. I hope his career flourishes with an array of different characters across different genres as a result.

This is ultimately one of those movies that weighs its success on whether it scares you or not. The creaking sounds around the corner, the sudden banging of doors and so on provide a few effective jumps and Radcliffe gives a solid performance. In its gothic quality in a bid to return to the classic "Hammer Horror" subgenre, The Woman In Black provides a sound effort in filmmaking, but is ultimately forgettable. Decades from now, it may only be remembered as "the film that took Daniel Radcliffe's career into a new realm beyond the world of Hogwarts", merely a dark little horror story that you might read in a tent late at night.



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Why? Daniel Radcliffe in a career-shifting role.
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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