The Woman In Black is the latest release in Hammer’s modern revival, coming hot on the heels of less-than-stellar fare Wake Wood, Let Me In and The Resident. Loosely adapted from Susan Hill’s novel of the same name by up-and-coming screenwriter Jane Goldman, The Woman In Black attempts to reclaim the spark that’s been missing from modern day horror productions through an eerie atmosphere and slow-burning minimalism.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a solicitor and father, is sent to a secluded village on the East Coast of England to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric woman with a dark history. Upon his arrival, he’s met with hostility from the locals who fear what’s lurking behind the walls of the secretive, mist-covered Eel Marsh House. Desperate to uncover the mystery, Arthur finds himself increasingly drawn in, much to he and his loved ones’ despair.
Hill’s novel has been adapted many times, and Goldman is commendably brave in attempting to revitalise the oft-told story and allow for some deviation. It works in the sense that Goldman can revel in the atmospherics a little more and add a successful level of credibility to Arthur’s character, which helps the audience understand his actions as supernatural events start to take their toll. Unfortunately, it’s too slight, with the narrative becoming too comfortable in its own surroundings towards the midway section, resulting in a misinformed, too-good-to-be-true finale that writes off what’s come before.
What brings The Woman In Black into its own, though, is not only its moorish undertones of the fragility between life and death and the grief the loss of life brings, but also – and more effectively – its use of subtle cinematography effects, production design and sound (who knew rocking horses were so freaky?). Sharp shock tactics are replaced by balanced direction, with James Wakins taking advantage of the barren surroundings, creaky, isolated house and the misty marsh to evoke a Gothic sensibility that brings to mind Hammer’s more traditional horror fare. It’s a confident approach, and works due to the bit-by-bit divulgence of information and lengths taken to ensure as near to complete authenticity as possible with Goldman’s screenplay.
Radcliffe proves an excellent choice to play Arthur, commendably proving his acting ability and shedding the invisibility cloak that’s enveloped him since becoming merely a part of the Harry Potter brand. His denounced appearance highlights the character’s immaturity, the burden he’s been left with after the abrupt death of his wife and the similarities he shares with the titular woman, whose nightmarish experiences find resonance with Arthur. Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer provide decent support as Mr. and Mrs. Daily – one in denial of the supernatural and one very much in sync. Their characters add a level of depth and emotion to the proceedings that, once again, ties it suitably to the Gothic fare the film as a whole emulates.
The Woman In Black isn’t as scary or unique as it might seem, but with strong conviction and apprehension achieved through Watkins’ keen-eyed direction and Radcliffe’s involved performance it’s a sporadically satisfying slice of traditional Hammer horror. Goldman’s screenplay, unfortunately, is too slight, leaving an underwhelming and could-have-done-better feeling swirling around the head and heart.