This tenebrous horror harks back to Hammer's Gothic heyday, but only manages to distill stock scares from Susan Hill's spooky source novel.
Floating in eerily under the recently resurrected Hammer mantle, The Woman in Black is a tenebrous horror that harks back to the studio's Gothic heyday, but only manages to distill stock scares from Susan Hill's spooky source novel.
Hill's fictionalised old wives' tale and its subsequent stage adaptation (the longest running UK theatre production) have been giving audiences the willies since the late '80s. Aware of but never intimidated by this prestige, director James Watkins, who previously impressed with the underrated Fassbender-versus-stabby-chavs middle-class nightmare Eden Lake, puts his own stamp on this classic postmodern ghost story by streamlining the ending and chucking Daniel Radcliffe into his first major post-Potter lead role.
Specs ditched and Victorian garb donned, Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a London lawyer and widower who strives to keep his firm afloat by travelling to an invariably overcast English village to handle the estate of recently deceased gentry-woman, Alice Drablow. Eel Marsh House is an ominous place, the kind of cobweb-strewn, fog-hugged abode that has long been a staple of this ilk of paranormal chiller.
As if merely sensing its Dantean bad vibes weren't enough, the locals season Kipps' trepidation with tales of children murdered in cold blood by the eponymous apparition, who's said to have unfinished business at Eel Marsh. Upper lip set to stiff, Kipps holes himself up at châteaux Drablow with only a pile of legal papers and a sympathetic hotelier's (Ciarán Hinds) plucky mutt for company. But it's not long before an uninvited guest gatecrashes this cosy party.
Anyone who questioned Radcliffe's acting creds during his spell as the globe's best-loved wiz-kid won't find an accurate barometer of his abilities here. He certainly looks the part, thanks to some dab work by the costume dep and a smear of stubble. But being routinely pounced on by a mean-spirited spectre in a mansion filled with squeaky doors and creepy china dolls for the best part of 90 minutes is hardly stretching his Strasberg.
He remains, however, an undeniably likeable screen presence, and as such is shrewdly cast. Yet by the time Watkins has finished indulging in increasingly cheap if effective fright sequences – exhausting every jumpy mirror trick in the book and proceeding to the next volume – Radcliffe is left saddled with an underdeveloped character and a plot that's long gone cold.
Harry Potter and the Malevolent Hag.
Never threatens to do justice to Susan Hill's spooky period novel.
Some effective scares, but this is haunted house horror by numbers.