Review: The Woman In Black

First and foremost, at the top of this review I’d like to start by saying that I’m not the biggest horror film fan in the world. Even though I have been taught to look past the screen at framing, editing, analysing the script and acting etc, there’s something about the supernatural from which I can’t switch off. But I figured this is a 12A film – how scary can it really be? Plus it’s Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role,;not being a fan of him either, I thought that even if it was scary I could just pick apart his acting and all would be well… but The Woman In Black is NOT Harry Potter!

The story follows a young widowed lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), who is on the verge of losing his job and at the end of his tether following the death of his wife. He is given one last chance by his boss and is sent away to collect and sort out the paper work from a house owned by a recently deceased woman. So he leaves his child with the nanny and travels to the village to go to work.

Things are amiss from the very moment he arrives  and it seems that everyone in the town knows someone who has died and, even stranger, most of them seem to be children. Arthur is not made welcome by the villagers, but is taken in by a well off man named Daily (Ciarán Hinds) who has lost a child himself, but doesn’t believe the stories surrounding the tragic deaths. Not all is as it seems anywhere in this village, but Arthur soldiers on with his work visiting the house to start his work. Then everything goes very wrong.

The frights start off at the ‘chills’ level with a half-seen woman loitering in windows or out of focus in the corner of shots. Even the big jump moments are fairly benign with blocked taps and birds stuck in chimneys, but it soon gets increasingly tense, creepy and downright frightening.

This kind of film hasn’t been made, to my knowledge, for some time. The fact that Hammer has a part in its development might be a reason for it. The general trend in horror has swung towards the gore porn movies like Hostel, Saw etc, or found footage style films about hauntings like paranormal activity. The Woman In Black is neither explicit nor is it detached, it is incredibly involving and gets right under your skin.

The camera work, use of light and dark, and the score and sound effects all work together effectively to immerse you in what Arthur is being subjected to meaning that you become completely sucked into the drama unfolding onscreen. The acting seems almost secondary to the atmosphere; there is hardly any dialogue at all for long stretches which involves you more and encourages you to project your own reactions into the situation. So really, the main credit for the success of this film must go to the director, James Watkins, who previously directed the chilling British horror film Eden Lake.

Criticism for the film probably has to lie with the sensors; a 12A certificate will probably mislead some parents whose children are Daniel Radcliffe fans. I understand that the film is not an exposé of horror – there is no real gore or language to speak of – but the feeling of tension and threat should have been enough for the BBFC to consider a rating of 15. The other problem I did have with the film is the believability of Radcliffe as a father of a four-year old child and a widower, but I accept this is a problem of being slightly typecast as a boy-wizard for the whole of his career.

You should see this film, but be prepared for a real fright-fest. And don’t take your Harry Potter loving kids. They won’t like it.

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3 Responses to “Review: The Woman In Black”

  1. A good review. I really liked The Woman in Black as my review clearly shows but I agree with you that it does start with a few jumpy moments that make you realise you’ve been stupid to be scared of such a thing, then they really up the fights and The Woman in Black becomes a very memorable film ghost.

  2. It does thrill with very little violence which is refreshing…has antique style, for sure! Nice review.

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