The legendary production company Hammer has had somewhat of a revival lately; last year, they relaunched with Let Me In, the well received but financially disappointing American take on cult Swedish vamp movie Let The Right One In. This was quickly followed by the achingly dull, straight to DVD offering The Resident and finally the surprising British gem that was Wake Wood. This year, the company releases what is possibly its biggest project yet in its resurrection: an adaption of Susan Hill’s Gothic book, The Woman in Black.
Set in the Victorian era, Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer and widowed father who is sent to a small, remote village to settle the estate of an eccentric woman. Whilst there, he insists on staying in her manor to do the work, only to find that the villagers will do anything to get him to leave, as his presence threatens to uncover a deadly secret about her. It’s not before long that Kipps finds out what the villagers were afraid of, and whilst at the manor he is haunted by a vengeful spirit dressed in black.
Director James Watkins is no stranger to horror, with his past work including the brilliant Eden Lake and the disappointing The Descent Part 2. These films focused more on gore and violence to scare/shock audiences, whereas The Woman In Black demanded psychological scares. Fortunately, Watkins holds his own, and whilst the jumps are, for the most part, predictable, they are effective. The film really pushes the boundaries for what is acceptable in a 12A rating; if I had a child who was under fifteen, I wouldn’t allow them to watch this. And that’s not just because it’s incredibly jumpy, it’s also because the subject matter is rather dark, and the face of the woman would give them nightmares for months. The mansion itself is one of the eeriest locations seen on film in a long time, and has many similarities to that seen in 2001’s The Others starring Nicole Kidman. The house creaks, bangs and rattles continuously, and silence is a rarity.
This is Daniel Radcliffe’s first role on screen since he became a household name playing Harry Potter, and whilst he does an acceptable job, there’s still the occasional flash of Potter in his performance, and he seems a little to young to play the character as well as not being all that convincing as a father. That said, it’s refreshing to at least see an actor trying to break out of a typecast, even though he will forever be known as the boy wizard. The supporting cast, as minimal as it is, is strong too; especially Ciaran Hinds who plays Sam Daily, but oddly comes across as a father figure to Kipps rather than a friend.
Simply put, this is a straightforward ghost story that benefits from strong production values and a director with experience in the genre. According to others who have read the book, it’s an insult to the material, but as a stand alone film it’s acceptable. Either way, it’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of ‘old school’ horror.