Daniel Radcliffe has a lot to live up to by starring in this film. Not only is The Woman in Black an adaptation of both an incredible novel and a stage play named “the most terrifying live theatre experience in the world”, but it’s also his first major acting role since the Harry Potter series, and with newly revived Hammer studios and director James Watkins behind him, he produces some frightening results.
Arthur Kipps, father, widower and solicitor, is sent to Eel Marsh House in order to sort out the affairs of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. After meeting the unhelpful and secretive villagers, he is driven to the house, which stands at the end of a causeway that can only be reached at low tide. Once there he catches sight of a mysterious figure dressed in black and begins to suspect that the villagers have a good reason for acting so odd. Haunting ensues.
The plot seems uncomplicated to begin with, and at times predictable, but as soon as Radcliffe opens the door to the house the audience is immersed; whenever he walks into a room, the camera is constantly edging around corners, adding extra depth to the frame and forcing you to look carefully into the darkness of each shot for something that could easily be missed. Due to the distinct lack of music, every breath can be heard, every whisper and every creak of the house, leaving it all to the imagination. This is a perfect example of a film where less is definitely more – the scares are so infrequent that when they come, they hit you with such an impact that, while you’re shaking in your seat, you yearn for more as the plot becomes gradually more complex. Script writer Jane Goldman is partly responsible for this. Working directly from the book, she adds greater ambition to the story line, choosing an ending that is perhaps more interesting than the original, where (without giving anything away) the characters strive for resolution rather than simply running away.
The visual imagery of the film is stunning: the wide angled shot of a horse and cart travelling from the mainland into the marshes, Eel Marsh House itself – an ancient, dilapidated mansion reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands, the ivy-clad gravestones in the overgrown garden and the mist rolling in from the sea. These all perfectly capture the atmosphere and Victorian bleakness of the original Susan Hill novel, and Daniel Radcliffe certainly fits in.
Many people have said that as Harry Potter, Radcliffe hadn’t been the most talented of actors, but with The Woman in Black he seems to have taken a step up. With the encouragement of James Watkins and the lack of famous faces to support him, he has been forced to become a little more mature, adding to his repertoire a more complex emotional range as he moves away from his usual ‘angsty teenager’ character.
In short, the film is terrifying. It certainly owes a lot to previous films of the same genre, particularly The Innocents and The Amityville Horror, but that doesn’t stop it from being a new and exciting ghost story in its own merit. This is what horror needs at the moment: a film that contains no traces of violence, nudity or profanity, but still manages to scare the shit out of you in the process. And baffling though it is, the age restriction is only a 12A, so to all you light hearted J. K. Rowling fans – proceed with caution: just because Harry Potter’s in it, it doesn’t guarantee your safety in the slightest.