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The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

Released 10 February 2012
Director James Watkins

Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Writer(s) Jane Goldman

Richard Jackson, Simon Oakes, Brian Oliver

United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden
Running Time 95 minutes
Genre Horror, drama, thriller
Rating 15A

Harry Potter and the shockingly good career move.

The first major release of the revitalised Hammer horror studios, The Woman in Black, is nothing less than a classic horror film. Right from the start the cliché is layered on thick. The pre-credits opening sequence sees a mysterious apparition cause three young girls to plummet to their deaths from their bedroom window. The scene lasts less than two minutes and contains no dialogue, but it perfectly sets the scene for what is to come.

Practically every trope in the horror genre is rolled out – the film revels in mysterious shapes moving in the shadows, there are plenty of sudden jump-out shock moments, and the image of dead or dying children recurs constantly. The plot sees troubled protagonist Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) struggling to raise his young son alone following the death of his wife in childbirth four years earlier. He is on the verge of losing his job, and possibly his sanity. When he is sent to a remote village in northern England to oversee the final affairs of a recently deceased client, it is already clear that something is about to go very wrong. At its heart The Woman in Black is the epitome of the gothic haunted house story. By the time Kipps arrives at the mansion for the first time, the tension has already reached a point of near agony. From there it is a short descent into absolute terror.

Radcliffe was always going to have a hard time getting past his breakout role, but it takes about ten minutes of his brooding intensity to forget that he was Harry Potter. Despite the fact that he still looks about seventeen, he is totally captivating as a haunted figure at the heart of a very dark tale. His face is ghostly pale and he is clad in black for the entire film. Despite being framed in practically every single shot, Radcliffe always seems to lurk in the shadows, himself a little nervous of what he might find in the light.

The superb direction has a lot to do with this. The gothic setting is wonderfully shot, with practically every scene – night or day – draped in deep shadows concealing plenty of menace. Likewise the suspense is brilliantly paced, and by the time the film reaches its truly nightmare inducing final act, you’ll be willing Radcliffe to just give up and run away, but you’ll also know why he can’t, sharing his dark fascination in the haunting mystery of the woman in black.

Of course this has all been done before. It wouldn’t take much to tweak the script for an episode of Scooby Doo. Nevertheless it works. Every element, no matter how old and overused, absolutely shines in The Woman in Black. Sudden shocks induce genuine terror, rather than inducing cringes or eye rolls. It is impossible not to be captivated, and any true horror fan couldn’t ask for anything more. Hammer horror has produced (almost Tarantino like) the perfect tribute to itself – a loving homage to a famous genre that stands itself as one of the best examples of genre.

Don’t go see this alone, and most certainly don’t walk home on a dark street to spend the night in a dark house alone afterwards. You will be scared.

- Bernard O’Rourke