Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Woman in Black

Year:  2012
Director:  James Watkins
Screenplay:  Jane Goldman, based on the novel The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Starring:  Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Sophie Stuckey, Misha Handley, Liz White,
Running Time:  95 minutes
Genre:  Horror, thriller, supernatural

This film is basically a good old-fashioned ghost story.  Based on a 1983 novel by Susan Hill, which has already been adapted as a long-running stage play, a made-for-television movie and two radio plays, the story is set in England, sometime at the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century, and tells the story of young lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), who has a four year old son, Joseph (Handley), and is still grieving for his wife Stella (Stuckey), who died in childbirth.  Arthur's firm sends him to a remote village called Crythin Gifford to handle the estate of Alice Drablow, who owned a nearby manor house called Eel Marsh House.  The locals are very unwelcoming, but Arthur does beforend wealthy landowner Sam Daily (Hinds) and his wife, Elizabeth (McTeer).  At the cluttered, decaying mansion, Arthur soon finds himself haunted by the ghostly figure of a woman clad head to to in black.  He also quickly discovers that whoever sees the Woman in Black summons a dreadful curse.

This genuinely creepy film relies on chills rather than shocks to scare it's audience.  There is no real blood or gore here, but the film has a powerfully oppressive doom-laden atmosphere, with washed out colour and the bleak, featureless countryside where it's set.  It also features a superb performance from Daniel Radcliffe as the grief-stricken young lawyer, who hints at rivers of pain beneath his straight-laced, quiet exterior.  The rest of the cast are good, but don't really get much of a chance to register as this is very much Radcliffe's show, with the film focusing entirely on his character.  The story sticks fairly closely to the traditional ghost story and the script effectively builds up the atmosphere.  The whole thing is played very seriously and is all the better for it.  It deals with some very serious subjects aside from the supernatural elements.  Ultimately the theme of the movie is grief and how it can dominate or destroy people's lives.  Sticking to the traditional spook story formula does mean that there is little that will really surprise fans of the genre, and, despite being admirably restrained for the most part, the film-maker's can't resist a few over the top CGI moments.  Also some viewers may be put off by the film's slow-burning, chilly approach and lack of conventional horror movie shocks.  However, this is a welcome example of traditional ghostly chills and might provide a few restless nights.

                                       Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black

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