Movie Review: “The Woman in Black”

ImageDaniel Radcliffe acquits himself reasonably well in his first adult big screen role, a man haunted by “The Woman in Black.”

He plays a young lawyer, a single father and widower with enough conviction to make this spooky period piece credible, though one might wish for a little more fear in the character and in his performance when confronted by the sinister and the supernatural.

I guess once you’ve faced down Lord Voldemort, you “ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”

Arthur Kipps is a failing young barrister in the Britain of the early ’20s. He still grieves for his wife, who died in childbirth, and pays a little too much attention to the spiritualist ads in his local newspaper. That’s mhow much he longs to see her again.

But he has a young son to support, so he seizes one last chance to prove himself– a trek to the north of Britain, to the marshy east coast where he must rummage through the papers of a family whose long-abandoned mansion — Eel Marsh — is to be sold.

The residents of the dank, grey and backward little village of Crythin Gifford aren’t very welcoming. There’s no room at the inn, no smile at any door. They want him gone, and quick. And since the film’s opening scene shows three village girls hurl themselves out of a window, we know there’s tragedy there.

Only the county’s wealthiest man, Samuel Daily (Ciaran Hinds) will give Arthur the time of day. He hints at an explanation for the apparition Arthur has seen at Eel Marsh, but he dismisses it.

“Don’t go chasing shadows, Arthur.”

Naturally, that’s exactly what Arthur does. The house — on an island surrounded by the incoming tide several times a day, he is stranded there with a jumble of papers, cobwebs and candles for long stretches of time. And no thump of a rocking chair of glimpse of a wraith in black mourning dress can go uninvestigated.

There’s a lot of atmosphere, but not a lot of urgency to this James Watkins (“Eden Lake”) film. The back story may be only  sketched in, but the thoroughly chilling jolts are handled in the most hair raising ways. I love the way he uses the simplest effects — the way Arthur, holding a candle, is followed across the room through the reflection of the candle on an old doll’s glass eye, a simple look of doomed resignation on a child’s face, an unearthly hand slapped against a window. Oscar nominee Janet McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”) is a special effect herself, playing the mercurial, mad Mrs. Daily.

I was less impressed with the efforts the film makes to push adulthood onto Radcliffe. Is he really that close to the towering Ciaran Hinds in height? Would a boyish working lawyer really address his social superior (Daily) by his first name? Too little effort is spent explaining Arthur’s fearless acceptance and seeming understanding of the ghost he sees and pursues.

Those quibbles aside, the bottom line on “The Woman in Black” is that it is a very spooky movie. Old fashioned and old school, it makes a convincing case for life after death and, for Radcliffe, life after Harry Potter.

 

 

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciaran Hinds

Credits: Directed by James Watkins, scripted by Jane Goldman, based on the Susan Hill novel. A CBS Films release. Running time: 1:35

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