The Woman In Black
- Director:James Watkins
- Cast:Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Daniel Radcliffe
- Release Date:May 17, 2012
- Running time:95 minutes
- Film Worth:$18.00
- FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
Packed with atmosphere, this old-fashioned but deftly told ghost story delivers ample chills and thrills.
Renowned for their series of modestly budgeted but visually rich (and often unintentionally camp) adaptations of famed gothic horror stories like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, Hammer was a highly lucrative production company during its late fifties/sixties heyday. The studio all but collapsed, however, under the weight of competition from more masterful, arguably scarier seventies chillers like Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and Don't Look Now. Audiences wanted gritty, sophisticated scares over the crude Technicolor red paint blood and gore that Hammer had to offer. A theatrical rebirth came in 2010, however, with Let Me In, a gruesome modern vampire take on the Swedish shocker, Let The Right One In, that was a commercial and critical success. This was swiftly followed by the less triumphant likes of the worthy Irish folklore horror flick, Wake Wood, and the misguided straight-to-DVD psychological thriller, The Resident.
As a consequence, there was a lot of pressure for their latest genre incarnation, the supernatural horror, The Woman In Black, to perform. Hammer and its US partner, Alliance Films, needn't have worried though - their film has already become the highest-grossing British horror film of the past twenty years. And now, finally, the spooky ghost flick from the revitalised Hammer Films hits Australian shores.
With Brit James Watkins (responsible for the impressive, broodingly violent thriller, Eden Lake) on directing duties, along with a script by Jane Goldman (Kiss-Ass, X-Men: First Class), who adapts from Susan Hill's terrifying 1983 ghost novel (which was itself dramatised into a notoriously chilling, long-running London West End play), it's clear to see who's responsible for that success. And following the snowy Los Alamos locale of Let Me In, the modern New York backdrop of The Resident, and the Irish hamlet of Wake Wood, it's somewhat refreshing to be back to a traditional "Hammer horror" fog-shrouded British period setting with The Woman In Black.
Watkins proves that he is equally capable of applying old-school chills to a conventional gothic story as he was with handling the visceral violence of his previous effort. After a gruesome pre-title opener involving three child suicides set to creepy lullaby music, the story follows young lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), who is summoned to the remote coastal town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of the titular deceased. The trouble is that the crumbling island residence of Eel Marsh House is haunted by the vengeful scorned spirit of the woman in question, who hung herself following the tragic drowning of her only child. It isn't long before a band of disgruntled locals blame Kipps for reawakening the late Mrs. Jennet Humphreys, provoking a string of subsequent and increasingly horrific child deaths.
Cue furiously rocking chairs, wind-up toys springing eerily to life, and a seriously sinister something lurking in the shadows. Watkins has great fun playing hide and seek with the audience, utilising the remote corners of the frame to crank up tension to unbearable levels of unease, while capitalising on the play's memorable trump card: sudden, unexpected jolts caused by the screams (and clever glimpses) of the feared titular character. Sightings of the woman are at first kept ominous, but it's not long before the deathly figure of the late Mrs. Humphreys makes truly chilling, nicely orchestrated appearances - whether as a ghost face on a window pane, seen in distant doorways, or abruptly coming into foreground view seated on a creaking rocking chair. So masterful are these moments of menace that we can forgive an elongated scene of Kipps frolicking in the mud, or a disjointed and cheap-looking CGI shot of a ghost rising from the bed covers.
It must also be acknowledged that the transition of the production design from stage to screen is seamless, and thus suitably unsettling. Eel Marsh House is more than your traditional spooky house: it bleeds terror, with every hallway and darkened room quietly brooding and atmospheric, always suggesting something sinister - while its surrounding island setting (eerily cut off by the tide at dusk) enhances the dreaded feeling of isolation. It helps that Goldman serves as scribe. She has transformed and darkened the happily married, eager-to-be-a-father, rather irksome Kipps into a sad and traumatised figure, who is grieving the wife that he recently lost in childbirth. This provides Radcliffe with ample opportunity to showcase more emotional conviction than he could muster in eight Harry Potter films. Radcliffe has solid support too from Ciaran Hinds as superstition sceptic, Daily, and Janet McTeer as his decidedly unhinged, spiritually attuned wife, who gives the woman in black a run for her money in the spooky stakes.
Building to a truly chilling climax, with an amended and considerably controversial twist ending, The Woman In Black proves that a good, old-fashioned, well-told ghost story can still deliver in droves.