moviebuff801: The Woman In Black Review

Posted: October 9, 2012 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

There’s more than one ghost Daniel Radcliffe is running away from in The Woman in Black.  Yes, there’s the sinister soulless (or would it be soulful) spectre of the title, but the ghost that’s haunting Radcliffe the most is the Ghost of Potters Past.  The most burning question on everyone’s mind here is whether or not Radcliffe can escape the image of a bespectacled young hero that’s shadowed him for the past decade, and while he’s traded in the spectacles for an old-fashioned business suit, he once again is playing the hero who’s forced to combat elements of the supernatural.  And what’s shadowing him this time isn’t quite so friendly.

In this remake of Susan Hill’s 1983 horror novel of the same name (the original film was released in 1989), Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer in pre-World War I London whose work at his firm recently has been mediocre to say the least.  Arthur’s superior one day offers him a last-ditch effort to save his job by way of getting him to travel out to a countryside village with an appropriately black and grey color palette to sort out the papers of a deceased woman’s estate.  Arthur agrees, since he needs to find a way to provide for his four-year-old son, but once Arthur arrives in the small town, he’s immediately shunned by the locals.  The catch here is that the decrepit estate that Arthur must go to is haunted by the vengeful spirit of its previous owner, a spirit that makes it a point to terrorize the town’s inhabitants by way of going after their children.  Due to the less-than-warm welcome Arthur receives upon his arrival, he’s forced to eventually take lodging in the Manor itself, where his “roommate” of sorts immediately starts the Eviction Plan From Hell.

So, does The Woman In Black work as a horror film?  Knowing how dry that well can be these days, I can say with a sense of relief that the answer is a resounding “yes.”  There’s a well-crafted and permeable feeling of dread and suspense present in every scene, and if you’re not scared by this film, then your spine is sure to be tingled.  The Woman In Black accomplishes what 95% of today’s horror filmmakers constantly get wrong: that in order to scare someone, rivers of blood never trump paranoia.  That’s precisely what this movie has.  It has its fingers acutely pressed against the pulse of a pounding heart, and channels that paranoia into something that gets under our skin and gets under it well.

This is Daniel Radcliffe’s first post-Potter role, and he does what he needed to: to prove that he can still be one of our more reliable emerging young actors.  Watching him in The Woman In Black makes it obvious that he’s going places, this one.  What Radcliffe is particularly good at is gaining our sympathy, yet still playing it all in a beautifully understated way.  The look of restrained pain and hollow grief on his face most of the time communicates much more than a big monologue.  We get a good sense of his pain over losing his wife in childbirth…pain that The Woman herself preys on once Arthur enters the house, because she isn’t necessarily the first ghost he’s seen.  Now, I admit, it’s pretty hard to buy Radcliffe as the father of a four-year-old boy.  He can have as much stubble on his chin as he likes, but I’m not buying someone who not a year ago was playing a 17-year-old teenager as a single father.  Maybe he should’ve waited a bit longer to take on that particular part.  But when we’re not being reminded that his character has a son, Radcliffe really is quite good at being the victim of otherworldly terror.

That terror, though, is well-staged and well-executed by director James Watkins, who knows what he’s doing in this department.  This movie isn’t about shock violence in any way; rather, it’s about what’s hidden in the shadows, what unseen force is in the room with you and what’s lurking at the corners of the screen.  Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman are more concerned with scaring you by poking at those areas of the mind that make even the most level-headed skeptic afraid of every creak, groan and darkened hallway.  The haunted house of the film is used to its fullest potential, as it comes with its own array of spooky objects, especially old-fashioned and dusty musical wind-up toys that function more as eerie watchers in the night than playful childhood trinkets.  There are many non-dialogue stretches spaced throughout the 95-minute running time, punctuated by bursts of noise that make you jump in your seat.  There was perhaps a tad too much reliance on those jump scares from time to time, but there’s no denying the gothic atmosphere’s effect on us and how chilling of an experience The Woman In Black really is.

If anything, this movie proves that there’s still life left in a genre that most of the time feels like it’s a ghost of its former self.


  1. r361n4 says:

    lol, this is randomly the first movie I ever reviewed on my blog, dreadfully unorganized and unpolished but hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere. I gave it a 6/10 so same score, just a solid if forgettable haunted house flick

  2. I realize you enjoyed this movie, but I hated it. It’s #2 on my “Worst of the Year” list, only topped by “The Raid”, which is about twice as overrated.

  3. moviebuff801 says:

    r361n4: Actually, my rating for this is more like a 7/10. I see a 6/10 as more of a “close, but no cigar.”

    The Cinemaniac: To each their own. I can’t call this bad in a year that’s also given us crap like John Carter and 21 Jump Street.

  4. I enjoyed this but felt it resorted to jump scare tactics a little too often when it really didn’t need to. The ending was also far too removed from the book for my liking.

  5. CMrok93 says:

    Not especially original and not tremendously scary, but there are a few pleasurable jolts of fear, some shiver-down-your-spine moodiness and it doesn’t overstay its welcome for too long. Nice write-up.

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