Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a widowed lawyer whose grief has put his career in jeopardy, is sent to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric. But upon his arrival, it soon becomes clear that everyone in the town is keeping a deadly secret. Although the townspeople try to keep Kipps from learning their tragic history, he soon discovers that the house belonging to his client is haunted by the ghost of a woman who is determined to find someone and something she lost… and no one, not even the children, are safe from her vengeance.
Fans of classically structured haunted house/ghost stories will relish the skillfully unnerving chain of events in The Woman in Black
, whether or not they're fans of Harry Potter. The good new is that Daniel Radcliffe leaves Harry behind for good in his first post-Potter role. Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor tasked with resolving the affairs of a recently deceased woman and her brooding estate in the gloom of the remote Victorian England-era village of Crythin Gifford. The mood is melancholic all around, starting with Kipps himself, who lost his wife to childbirth a few years earlier. His employer has had just about enough of his moping about and gives him the assignment as a last resort to save his job. When he arrives in the small village, the icy response he receives does not bode well for successful completion of his mission. All the townspeople want him gone, and possibly for good reason. Many of their children have died mysteriously gruesome deaths that they blame on the titular black-clad woman whose own child was tragically sucked to his death in the muck surrounding her seaside mansion. This new stranger who wants to unearth the deadly secrets trapped in the decrepit old house is a threat they cannot abide, and sure enough the deaths keep on coming as he delves deeper into the dark recesses of the house and the history of its ghostly occupant. There are scares aplenty in The Woman in Black
, and they come from a genuineness that relies on creep-outs rather than gross-outs. Faces in windows, apparitions barely there, slow-building moodiness that suddenly erupts into a silent scream (or sometimes not so silent) make for an extremely effective and often terribly unnerving atmosphere of dread. The movie comes with several impressive pedigrees as well. It's based on a popular novel published in the early '80s, which was also adapted into a long-running hit play. The movie additionally resurrects the Hammer Films brand, an esteemed British production company that churned out moody and distinctive horror films and exploitive psycho-thrillers for decades in the mid 20th century. Indeed, the presence of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee seems to lurk around every dusty, cobwebbed corner in The Woman in Black
, right behind the slamming doors and only just glimpsed in the flickering candlelight. Radcliffe is perfect for the role of a heartbroken man whose rationality is stretched to the point of no return by the things he may or may not be seeing. Several strong supporting performances add to the gravitas, especially Ciarán Hinds as a kindred soul and father figure to Kipps, and perhaps the only other rational man in Crythin Gifford. But then rationality has almost nothing to do with the disquieting spirit of this authentically enigmatic, finely understated and efficiently chilling return to classic horror. --Ted Fry