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The Woman in Black - Review

The Woman in Black

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

SUSAN Hill’s classic novel The Woman in Black gets a long overdue cinematic makeover (to follow its hugely successful stage run) to chill by virtue of its old fashioned approach to scaring people.

Daniel Radcliffe takes the lead role of Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife in childbirth, who is sent to clear up the affairs of a recently deceased old woman who lived in a remote house.

Once there, however, he finds a hostile, even scared village and a house that appears to be haunted by a woman in black…

For Radcliffe, The Woman in Black marks a first major cinematic outing post Harry Potter and it’s very much a coming-of-age kind of role even though he’s arguably too young to fill Kipps’ boots properly. The actor does well in filling the silences and looks haunted (whether by loss or fear) throughout.

But there’s still work to be done during some of the weightier emotional material, when his youthful demeanour and sometimes stagey delivery struggles to convince as it has done throughout his Potter years.

The real success story behind this big screen adaptation (from Jane Goldman) is James Watkins, whose direction is hugely effective in generating the building sense of unease and the scares that are required from the piece.

Rather than going for tacky shock and awe tactics that have bedevilled many contemporary haunted house movies, Watkins opts for a restrained, slow-build approach that unsettles from the outset with a brilliantly put together opening sequence involving young girls.

He then turns the screw, as if in homage to the likes of The Turn of the Screw and A Christmas Carol, building a sense of dread and impending doom.

And then he delivers the big moments, including a fingernail shredding overnight sequence in which Kipps opts to spend the night alone in the mansion and finds the ‘woman in black’ at the peak of her powers.

It’s during sequences such as these, when clever use of visuals and pared down music, will test even the most hardened horror hound… while making a mockery of the generous 12A certificate.

There’s typically strong support, too, from the likes of Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer to offer clues along the way to solving the mystery behind the central ghost, which – once revealed – still provides a bittersweet conclusion to proceedings.

In the final analysis, it’s Watkins who emerges with the most credit to remind modern audiences of the virtues of the often forgotten ‘less is more’ approach to horror, while simultaneously showing just why Hill’s source material has been able to stand the test of time.

While flawed, The Woman in Black remains a hugely effective chiller of the classically crafted variety.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 95mins
UK Release Date: February 10, 2012