A young lawyer (Radcliffe), struggling with work after the death of his wife (Stuckey), is sent to a remote village to settle the estate of a deceased, eccentric woman. The village residents, well aware of the terrible secrets hidden within the English manor, want desperately for him to leave before he discovers the vengeful ghost of a woman dressed in black who haunts the estate.
The Woman in Black is a fine and appropriate return to atmospheric horror movies for the once great Hammer Films. It sticks to the source material's (the 1983 novel by Susan Hill) original time period (the late 19th century to the early 20th century), with authentic costumes, sets and a spectacularly creepy haunted house. The mood is perfect (emphasized by extreme isolation), the sustained dread is gut-wrenching, and the anticipation is a killer. Although this is a ghost story with the standard dilapidated, abandoned mansion as the central location for trepidation, it presents several very unique ideas for old-fashioned hauntings.
The use of demonic-looking toy contraptions and unnerving dolls is nothing new. Nor are the expected, manipulative jump scares fuelled by loud thuds, screeches, and jarring sound effects (and a pesky crow), or the sudden appearances of otherworldly imagery coupled with crescendo-favouring musical accompaniment. But the evil spirit itself is wonderfully singular in its ability to scare through subtle materialisation (coming into sight in alarming manner, with slower paced emergences more traumatising than the rapid ones), its targeting of children and pattern of avoiding physical harm to adults, and most of all in its vengeful mission that cannot be appeased, calmed or quelled. She's a wronged poltergeist of legendary ill-omen stature, foreshadowing doom; she's not meant to be satisfied but rather endured.
The explanation for the wraith is much more straightforward and understandable than in the previous film adaptation. The many questions that arose from the 1989 version are neatly covered here, opting for a clear-cut motive of insatiable revenge. Kipps still possesses an uncanny bravery (or stupidity) in the face of genuinely frightful, spectral harassment, and attempts many panic-induced, pointless parries (such as locking the door on a ghost). The conclusion has changed, along with the previous unforgettable climax, but despite the morbid nature of the story and the terminal confrontation, screenwriter Jane Goldman (or perhaps interfering producers) has chosen the most assuaging method to wrap up a dark narrative of eerie tragedy and undying wrath.