A film review by Craig J. Koban June 27, 2012
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
2012, PG-13, 95 mins.
2012, PG-13, 95 mins.
Arthur Kipps: Daniel
Hinds / Mrs. Daily: Janet McTeer /
Joseph Kipps: Misha Handley /
Mr. Bentley: Roger Allam
most refreshing aspect of THE WOMAN IN BLACK is that it’s a horror
that’s uncommon in our current cinematic climate of nihilistic torture
porn. It’s a supernatural
haunted house thriller that hones in more on creepy gothic atmosphere and
a chilling sense of impending dread than requisite blood curdling
gore. The film's mindset of
tension and suspense first and hack and slash violence a distant second
makes it come off as a more traditional – and perhaps more interesting
– old school fright flick.
the film – directed by EDEN LAKE helmer James Watkins and adapted from the
Susan Hill novel of the same name – is made up of far too many
obligatory elements to be considered a home run innovator of the genre.
Dark and decrepit mansions that are possessed by evil spirits is
hardly anything novel, not to mention that most of the other story
particulars seem heavily recycled: petrified
local townsfolk, the manner the apparitions seem to coalesce with other
recent deaths, and a lonely and
depressed man (an attorney) that is forced by his employers to visit the
aforementioned spooky dwelling in scenes that bare an awful resemblance to
The man in
question is a Victorian lawyer named Arthur Kipps (Harry Potter himself,
Daniel Radcliffe) and he is a man that has gone through great personal
tragedy. He has recently become
widowed and has been in an emotional funk since the untimely demise of his
wife, who died during childbirth, leaving him to raise his
four-year-old son all alone. Arthur's
depression is beginning to permeate into his work life in London, which
his employers are losing patience for, so they give him one last chance to
pull himself together. They
give him a new assignment to travel to the estate of the late Alice
Drablow, which is the prototypical isolated and feared haunted house that
can only be reached via a dark and foggy overcast narrow pathway that’s not
too unlike what Jonathan Harker had to traverse in Bram Stocker’s most
arrives he meets up a few of the locals, in particular a couple, Sam and
Elizabeth Daily (Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer) who do try to make Arthur
an accepted part of the town. The
other townsfolk greet the lawyer with hostility and threats, urging him
not to travel to the estate. Arthur
realizes that he has a responsibility to his employers, not to mention
that he’s compelled to complete his assignment or risk termination, so
he ignores the warnings and proceeds to the Drablow estate.
The house, predictably, is not what it seems.
The estate is the
real character of THE WOMAN IN BLACK, and the production design of it –
with its dreary, cobwebbed covered hallways, its decrepit rooms filled
with belongings that have long since been forgotten, and its overall sense
of dilapidated unease – is most certainly Oscar caliber.
The mansion is also punctuated by a series of seemingly random, but
otherwise unnatural occurrences: there is a town legend that holds that
the estate is indeed haunted or possessed by an entity (voices can be
heard in the shadows, rocking chairs glide on their own, trinkets, lights,
and other items spontaneously turn on, etc.), which may or may not have
something to do with the ghost that resides there – the “Woman in
Black” who may have been a key figure in the deaths of many of the
town's children. It becomes
alarmingly and unsettlingly clear that Arthur is most certainly not alone.
It would be hard
for me to discuss THE WOMAN IN BLACK without mentioning Daniel Radcliffe,
making his first staring role appearance since playing the boy/adolescent wizard in
the J.K. Rowling-inspired fantasy series.
I have been picky about Radcliffe as an actor right from the very
beginning of the first HARRY POTTER adventure and my overall opinion of
him has not radically change. At best, he has a natural, low key charm,
but is nonetheless a stiff actor of limited range who was often outshone
by the great British thespians that he played opposite of for a decade.
The central problem with THE WOMAN IN BLACK is that the actor is in
nearly every single scene and, in my estimation; he’s just not leading
man material. He also is
woefully miscast and lacks credibility playing a mature and world-weary
father and widower.
Radcliffe is 22 and is an adult, but he is blessed with eternally youthful
looks that always seem to make him appear like he’s in his mid-teens.
And, yes, he was the lead actor during the entirety of the HARRY
POTTER franchise (to be fare, though, it was not Radcliffe that carried those
films to enormous heights of popularity, but rather Rowling's books
themselves). With an
unconvincing casting of the lead in THE WOMAN IN BLACK, the rest of the
film sort of implodes under that misguided decision.
I just never really bought Radcliffe as an emotionally tortured
grown-up with years of anguish weighing heavily under his conscience.
Just consider what the presence of a young, but more credibly mature and
adept performer like, say, a Ryan Gosling could have made in a film like
this and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s funny how
Radcliffe always manages to participate in films where his more
experienced co-stars outshine him. Both
Ciaran Hinds and recent ALBERT NOBBS Oscar nominee Janet McTeer do provide
the film withsome much needed performance gravitas and presence
that’s kind of lacking when Radcliffe is on screen.
There are two other things that I modestly appreciated about the
film: Firstly, THE WOMAN IN BLACK was intended to be shot in 3D, but the
makers very appropriately backed off, which is a good thing seeing as this
film’s persistently sinister and bleak color palette would have been all
but indecipherable with multi-dimensional tinkering.
Secondly, the film’s conclusion both adheres to and kind of
boldly defies the conventions of a happy ending.
film certainly looks magnificent and is a frightener that has swift
pacing, a sense of ghoulish atmosphere, and manages to generate some
substantial boo moments that fans of these types of films clamor
for (granted, the few audience jarring instances that are generated
become fewer as the narrative moves forward, which may
or may not have something to do with its watered down PG-13 rating).
I can certainly appreciate that THE WOMAN IN BLACK is
mostly tailored made for fans of HARRY POTTER and Radcliffe in general.
Regrettably, this is not the proper staring vehicle for the actor,
seeing as he still looks like he’s in his sophomore year at Hogwarts and
hardly comes off as a believable twenty-something lawyer/father with a
dark history of skeletons in his closet.