*** The Woman in Black (2011)
The Woman in Black is a good old-fashioned Gothic horror from a throwback studio, Hammer Film Productions, a company that I thought had closed up shop decades ago. The film, in the capable hands of director James Watkins (Eden Lake) and scriptwriter Jane Goldman (adapting a 1983 novel by Susan Hill), is a solid example of well-defined, engaging storytelling. There are plenty of ghostly scares and an effectively-chilling atmosphere throughout. Daniel Radcliffe, playing lawyer and widower Arthur Kipps turns in a nice performance and is beginning to distance himself from his Harry Potter mill stone. The always reliable Ciaran Hinds adds to the quality of the production as Sam Daily, a local landowner who befriends Kipps upon his arrival in the abundantly creepy village of Crythin Gifford. Janet McTeer, playing Sam Daily’s wife, is also excellent, but doesn’t get enough screen time in an underwritten role.
The Woman in Black isn’t gory or sadistic like most modern horrors are, it’s jumpy and fun like a traditional ghost story should be. The jolts sometimes come when you least expect them creating a nice tension throughout and the imagery is often frightening, from the eerie and isolated Eel Marsh House, where most of the action unfolds, to the bizarre and terrifying Edwardian toys that litter the nursery and wouldn’t stop watching me. The production designers absolutely nail the look of the period and the sound design is top notch as well.
Despite an overly melodramatic final scene, The Woman in Black remains an atmospheric, engaging and well-written movie that will likely stay with you after the lights go out – just the way a good ghost story should.
Post script….. I find it interesting that Hammer, a studio that rose to fame spicing things up in the ’60s and ’70s by adding sex, violence and buckets of theatrical blood to the horror genre, has seen fit to go the other direction with this film, returning to the original Gothic tradition that underpinned the genre in decades past. Swimming against the current seems to be in their blood… if you’ll excuse the cliche.