The Woman In Black
Starring Daniel Radcliffe & Janet McTeer
Directed by James Watkins
95 min., PG-13
Release date Feb. 3, 2012
If you love a good, old-fashioned ghost story, here’s one that will make your goose bumps giddy.
I’ve never actually seen an adult watch almost an entire film with hands over eyes, peering through fingers, ready to clamp them tight should the scare become too much to bear. But I sat next to a guy who did just that for “The Woman in Black.”
And when it was all over, he was smiling from ear to ear.
Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) plays a London lawyer sent in the early 1900s to settle the estate of a recently deceased woman on the marshy, fog-wrapped outskirts of an isolated English village. But he encounters a town full of secrets, a decrepit mansion with things that go bump in the night, and a draped-in-black banshee whose appearance always spells bad news, especially for children and their parents.
This is especially troubling for Radcliffe’s character, a widower raising a young son after the death of his wife during childbirth. He’s still haunted by her memory, and his new assignment causes him to ponder anew what’s on the “other side.”
Based on a 1982 novel that was previously made into a British TV movie (1989), two radio dramas, and a play that’s been running on London stages for more than two decades, the movie marks the first time the story has been adapted for the big screen.
This Brit-centric reincarnation of the delightfully spooky, deliciously creepy revenge-from-beyond-the-grave yarn is notable for several reasons. First, it marks the first post-Potter role for Radcliffe, who seems to enjoy being a bona fide grownup after a decade of playing the world’s most famous boy wizard.
The film also marks a return to the Gothic spook-o-rama format, after a three-decade hibernation, for Britain’s once-thriving Hammer studios, which was practically synonymous with horror movies from the late 1950s through the ’60s.
And it’s refreshing to see a mainstream “horror” movie with no gore or violence. In fact, “The Woman in Black” is almost entirely bloodless, relying instead on camera work, lighting and setting, an atmosphere of darkness, dread and danger, and a handful of wonderfully jolt-y “gotcha” moments.
The movie does a great job of keeping viewers riveted. You never know what might be lurking in a corner of the shot, in the murky margins of a scene, or in the out-of-focus shadows. And when the spooks do make themselves known, in glimpses and quick flashes, they’re truly hair-raising.
Things wobble a bit in the final act, when the plot careens to a showdown that’s disappointingly under-played, and a rushed closing that feels like it needs a few more minutes to properly wrap things up for the emotional wallop it intends.
But don’t get your ectoplasm in a wad over the loose ends. For the most part, “The Woman in Black” splendidly delivers the old-school, hocus-pocus goods, reminding us that sometimes a bone-chilling movie scare can be frightfully, fitfully fun.