Directed by: James Watkins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciaran Hinds
There’s always been a part of me that’s hoped the best for Daniel Radcliffe, considering how virtually his entire adolescence was spent portraying the most famous boy wizard in all the land. When the lad in question was attached to star in James Watkins’ adaptation of The Woman in Black, I quite literally couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of seeing Radcliffe in another starring role despite the fact he’s dabbled in much less successful endeavors. With 2012′s first respectable, unabashedly gothic throwback to the horror classics of decades past, Radcliffe surely pulls his weight as Watkins’ relentlessly grim atmosphere paves the way for moderate success in light of the film’s penchant for schlocky predictability.
The story, adapted from Susan Hill’s novel of the same name, revolves around young lawyer Arthur Kipps, a recent widower who’s been commissioned to travel and offer his services to an eerie, predictably remote village with (surprise) a dark and presumably deadly secret. Learning that the ghost of a woman who previously inhabited a dwelling just off the coast presently terrorizes the locals, most notably in the form of child possession and forced suicide, young Arthur tries his best to right what’s wrong before his own son is unknowingly thrown into the mix. Things go bump in the night as Arthur remains under the intense scrutiny of the increasingly distraught townsfolk, with director James Watkins maintaining a tone so dreadfully yet appropriately bleak you’re indirectly forced to share their sorrow as they infinitely mourn the loss of their children.
Adhering mostly to convention from this point on, The Woman in Black does provide its fair share of chills a la your typical batch of jump scares, a well-maintained air of tension and occasionally disturbing imagery. Being the naive outsider, Radcliffe’s Arthur predictably does more harm than good in investigating the restless, vengeful spirit’s presence and searching for a potential remedy for her murderous ways. The film falls into an equally predictable rhythm at this point as our protagonist continually shuttles back and forth between the haunted estate and the town itself, alternately being terrorized by the apparition herself and stumbling upon further tragedy as children continue to succumb to their gruesome fates. Becoming a bit tiresome as the proceedings begin to falter entering an underwhelming third act, all The Woman in Black has going for it as this point is Arthur’s questionable willingness to pacify the reprehensible psychopath by doing what he thinks is best, of which leads up to a particularly gratifying conclusion despite its choppy execution.
Radcliffe, along with costar Ciaran Hinds elevate the proceedings substantially with their respective performances and subsequent chemistry. The former remains particularly noteworthy however, which is a relief given the obvious skepticism of those unable to envision him as anything but Mr. Potter. His portrayal of Arthur is remarkable, his conviction in remaining believable as the central character standing tall as The Woman in Black‘s saving grace whenever the film begins to drag and unintentionally bore despite a peculiarly attractive gloomy color palette and wonderfully atmospheric tendencies.
As a pleasant surprise in the realm of straightforward gothic horror, The Woman in Black fits the bill and nothing more. It’s peppered with frequently tense occurrences that segue beautifully into the film’s more terrifying moments, however the predictable back-and-forth that exists between Arthur, his new companion and the scornful apparition herself as he willingly subjects himself to her ghastly tricks becomes a bit of a bore. Above average performances aside, James Watkins does a terrific job in establishing an evocative visual aesthetic characteristic of both the period in question and the morose nature of the central town’s predicament, however the familiarity of this particular ghost story, despite a welcome twist ending tends to slightly overpower everything it does right.