The Woman In Black

The Woman In Black

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Momentum Pictures

Release date: February 10th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 12A
Running time: 95 minutes

Director: James Louis Watkins
Writer: Jane Goldman

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Misha Handley

I haven’t been this tense in a long time. Down an eerie rabbit hole I went, over to “the other side”, a couple of minutes into the film. My composure dropped behind soon after, and I was relieved when the boy in the row in front of us leaped into his mother’s arms hiding. Though I felt a child shouldn’t be watching THIS, I knew it wasn’t just me in a moment of mental fatigue.

After shaking off the first shock over the deaths of three little girls, we leave the scene to meet widowed solicitor Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), living in London some 100 years ago. The man is deeply sad, long-lasting grief veiling his face. He lost his wife to child birth four years earlier, and it seems the only thing worth living for is his son Joseph (Misha Handley).

The little fella is Radcliffe’s real godson which makes their relationship feel genuine and Radcliffe a rather credible father. At 22 years, the “Harry Potter” star appears oddly under-aged for this role at first but in the end his youth is what gives the character the weight and poignancy that will carry the story.

The Woman In Black

Arthur Kipps is about to lose his career as he can’t seem to cope with the death of his wife. He is given one last chance and deputed to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased client. Suffering from a sense of curse and haunting himself he soon realises the villagers have a terrible secret. They are trying to send him back out of town right away but since Kipps is as desperate to keep his job as they are to keep their secret, he manages to stay and gain access to the client’s residence.

The house is a masterpiece of set and sound design, probably displaying the finest experience of Hammer Film Productions – in terrorising an audience though the subliminal placement of artefacts and with even the faintest of noises. Not least, the causeway to the house leads through marshes for miles on end so the place is completely cut off from the mainland at high tide.

Kipp’s trip to the house is as fearsome as can be, probably only an accidental homage to Dracula’s castles, and Nosferatu’s lair in particular. The history of stories with dreaded and haunted houses is long, monuments like Stephen King’s Rose Red come to mind, or Robert Wise’s The Haunting. They themselves and their undead inhabitants are legend so director James Watkins and with him Radcliffe are stepping into rather large footprints.

Radcliffe’s character, with his very-young-man aura and almost mortal appearance who is living out an emotional drama in his own right, could be the suitable opponent to the ghastly resident of the house. Obviously, the young lawyer’s investigation quickly turns away from the actual purpose of his visit. He finds out the residence is haunted by the ghost of a woman who is determined to get satisfaction for something evil done to her. And it seems the children of the nearby village are the preferred victims of her vengeance.

The Woman In Black

Unfortunately, Kipps doesn’t get to do much more than stumbling over clues that turn up in the house, and show in the deathly happenings in the neighbourhood. The script doesn’t let him too close to the story of the woman who once lived there. We learn the terrible facts and feel she must have been a good if complicated lady, but ultimately there is no sense how the deeds of her afterlively incarnation relate to what was done to her.

This is when the film feels like there’s a twist or two missing, like the story shies at the occult and dreadful depths that it has opened up wide and dark. I felt but a blind rage, a sweeping blow unrelated to the “cause” of the haunting. The Woman in Black remains a vengeful perpetrator from “the other side”, and young solicitor Kipps fends her off but with pertinacity and the power of his longing to be reunited with his late wife.

Yet, the story has an extremely emotional essence. It’s the children who suffer for the madness of a world they were born into, soon enough losing their innocence and their ability to see and hear the things that are hidden otherwise. Radcliffe, where he seemed too young a father in the beginning, masters to bridge the mundane and the spiritual perfectly. He makes his character a messenger conveying between worlds and it almost seems he would never lose his childhood.

This adds to the horror of the story and its deeply disturbing finale. At the height of grief and rage, the film darts us through an emotional U-turn, and whatever you feel in this moment, it will stay with you for some time to come. The Woman In Black is a heart-pounding soul reaper, told with impeccable visual style and surely a highlight of British filmmaking.

The Woman In Black

About Jonahh Oestreich

Jonahh Oestreich

One of the Editors in Chief and our webmaster, Jonahh is a photographer and journalist who has been working in the media industry for over 15 years, mainly in television, design and art. As a boy, he made his first short film with an 8mm camera and the help of his father. His obsession with (moving) images and stories hasn’t faded since.

His passion for intricate stories and the ‘seven basic plots’ (ask him!) often times makes his friends and family put him in the doghouse for "predicting" too many twists and endings.

Jonahh has his own blog at De Omnibus Dubitandum, and you can follow him on Twitter @jonahhphoto.