The Woman in Black is a horror movie that lends itself more to the classic, spooky tendencies of a nearly forgotten generation of horror cinema. Feeling more akin to Nosferatu than Nightmare on Elm Street, this flick will remind you that the scariest element in any movie has nothing to do with the film and everything to do with your own imagination. Sporting a familiar cast and a decrepit mansion, The Woman in Black has all the right elements to scare you silly and keep you wanting more.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer, single father, and widower in the early 1920’s. Since his wife’s death during childbirth 4 years ago, he’s apparently had a hard time concentrating on his work, as it is made clear by his less-than-pleasant employer. He’s given an opportunity to settle the big estate of a recently deceased client, and he willingly takes on the task with his son’s welfare in mind. Kipp begins the journey to the north of Britain, to a marshy coastal village called Crythin Gifford.
The residents know that he is there to rummage around the old mansion, known as Eel Marsh, in an attempt to sell it, and they are none too pleased. They hide indoors when they see him coming, shush their children, and even try to deny him a room. The only friendly face he comes across is that of Samuel Daily (Ciarán Hinds), the county’s wealthiest man. Daily gives only a hint of explanation as to the town’s concern and the black figure that begins to show itself to Kipp, before simply telling him not to go chasing shadows.
Like any good thriller, our hero thoroughly ignores that advice, delving deep into the mystery surrounding the Woman in Black, her link to the curious and frightening deaths of local children, and into his own belief of the afterlife. This leads to an intriguing story, filled with scares and chills that will leave the audience covered in goosebumps and gripping their seats in fear.
The Woman in Black has a lot of atmosphere about it, but generally little urgency as the story slowly unfolds in a quiet sort of way. This is reminiscent of the 1983 novel by Susan Hill, as well as the 1989 TV movie that was made notorious throughout the UK. It was so well received by audiences, that a stage play was crafted and is the second longest running play at the Fortune Theater in London’s West End; it is still running to this day and is even on a UK national tour. The atmosphere is created through the location of our story. Being in the north of Britain, Crythin Gifford is rainy, cloudy, and plagued with what the locals call “Sea Mist.” This is especially evident on the single road to Eel Marsh, which is only passable during the low tide. Eel Marsh is on a small patch of land which is made into an island several times a day due to the tide, revealing a treacherous, muddy landscape that has claimed its share of lives.
Radcliffe wouldn’t have been my first choice for the lead, considering how young he is. At first it is hard to believe that someone as young as he could have a 4 year old son, but after the first few scenes those thoughts are put to rest. Though he may look young, Radcliffe surprised me with his ability to pull off the role and hold his own in many scenes with the likes of Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer. Liz White played the Woman in Black, and while many of her shots were masked in CGI, her body language did much to give her character life (haha). The entire cast did an excellent job setting the stage and delivering both subtle and believable performances.
Another prominent character is Eel Marsh. It is the wonderful back drop to a large portion of the movie. Eel Marsh looks like something you would see in a scary movie of yesteryear. It is complete with Gothic, Victorian decor and all the spiderwebs and candelabras you would expect from a haunted mansion. It also comes with something more modern: its own sound effects team. The house is constantly creaking and moaning, both due to its age and to the ghosts that haunt it. Director James Watkins used CGI sparingly, and left much to the imagination. Instead of flashing gore and giving things away, he craftily used sound effects and shadows to thoroughly scare us. The score is fitting for the atmosphere, adding tense strings and thrums when called for, and remaining excruciatingly silent when appropriate. This is a breath of fresh air in the horror/thriller genre, and goes to show that the imagination can be scarier than anything Hollywood can come up with.
While The Woman in Black deserves much praise, it does have a few setbacks. The back-story is outlined, but not especially fleshed out. While Radcliffe sells his character, there were times when he didn’t seem as scared of the apparitions as the audience was. Granted, this is set back in a time when people were very interested in the idea of ghosts and searching into the unknown through séances, but considering the Woman is far from friendly, you’d think he’d be terrified. Also, the story takes a little time to draw you in. A teenager with a short attention span could easily be bored with the lack of jump-out-at-you action, explosions, and gore. If you’re like me and enjoy a slow, creeping thriller that builds as the story unfolds, then you’ll absolutely enjoy yourself.
I give The Woman in Black 4 “Creepy Monkey Toys” out of 5.