I admit it. I went to see The Woman in Black hoping to get that last little bit of Harry Potter out of the jar, like getting one more smidgen out of a toothpaste tube. Daniel Radcliffe in a dark manor house inhabited by ghosts and trying to solve a mystery? That was in no way hard to get interested in.
Then again, I was a bit worried that I was trying too hard to force Radcliffe into being the character I wanted him to be instead of the man he was supposed to be portraying. A young widower lawyer with a stack of outstanding debts wasn’t exactly where the epilogue of that last Harry Potter book left off. As I sat through the previews I wondered if I would be able to separate Harry from Radcliffe from Arthur Kipps, the main character in The Woman in Black. I have a hard enough time as it is reminding myself that Harrison Ford doesn’t ACTUALLY own a Millennium Falcon, nor does he regularly fight the Nazis for historic artifacts. (Not that we know of, anyway) More importantly, would Radcliffe himself transcend his most famous role and deliver a convincing and entertaining portrayal of a grieving father and impromptu ghostbuster?
It’s hard to review a movie and not give too much away, especially since scary mystery films are a bit predictable – and this one is, make no mistake. But Jane Goldman’s screenplay is an excellent depiction of an otherwise well-known story. Written by Susan Hill in 1983, The Woman in Black has been retold on stage, through radio, and on television. This sad story of a mother and her child violently torn apart and the rage and vengeance which ensues is reminiscent of many horror films such as Japan’s Ringu and Ju-On (The Ring and The Grudge, respectively, in America). And much like its predecessors, The Woman in Black tells two stories, that of the investigator and that of the mystery he finds himself caught up in.
Possessing key elements of classic psychological horror like spirits suffering unrest, the building of tension through increasing paranormal activity, and secretive townsfolk who work against the protagonist, this film manages to take an otherwise timeless ghost story and give it new life. Through excellent casting, ominous cinematography, calculated pacing, and terrifying music and sound, we are left with that downright unsettling feeling that something just isn’t right and it’s only going to get worse.
I left the theater feeling both satisfied and relieved. I wanted to see a movie that creeped me out, and The Woman in Black delivered. A word of warning: if you suffer from pediophobia, the fear of dolls, you might want to go with someone whose shoulder you can bury your face in. There seems to be no end to the haunted house’s former resident’s collection of monkeys playing the cymbals. The story was both deeply sad, full of loss, and frightening, as the conditions Kipps undergoes to bring the horror to an end had me holding my breath on several occasions.
I was relieved too, because my first Daniel Radcliffe experience outside of Harry Potter completely exceeded my expectations. Radcliffe is a good actor; he is a better reactor. Instead of overacting like some horror movie heroes tend to do, Radcliffe gives us a believable Kipps who is just as overwhelmed by the events as anyone of us would be if in his shoes.
Whether intentional or not, there are a few nods to the Harry Potter story. I’ll let you enjoy spotting them on your own, but they’re worth the attention it takes to keep your eyes open for them.
I did say this movie was predictable, and it is. But it was entertaining, and by the end I was surprised and pleased to find I had gotten wrapped up in it.