The Woman in Black,
directed by James Watkins
(Hammer, 2012)

The Woman in Black is an old-fashioned ghost story about a haunted manor full of creepy shadows, flickering candles and suspicious noises, surrounded by an ever-present fog. It's a very familiar tale dressed in newly antiquated clothing, and it does a fair enough job of churning out a decently suspenseful-though not entirely surprising-story.

Whether or not you see the core of the film as being rather unoriginal, or whether you see it as a quite serviceable horror story that does exactly what it meant to do, rather depends on what you want from the genre. If you like your horror long on suspense and short on gore, then you'll see this dependable workhorse for what it is. If you aren't fond of old-school style filmmaking, you won't find it very gripping.

If what you really want is a Daniel Radcliffe fix, then it hardly matters.

And speaking of Radcliffe: although he plays it extremely safe in his first post-Potter film, I'd say it's a wise move not to stray too far from familiar gothic territory for the millions of fans used to seeing him in a certain light. Surrounded by an entire stable of British actors in a setting that simply radiates atmosphere, Radcliffe turns in a capable performance as a grieving young lawyer whose wife died in childbirth, leaving him with a young son and more bills then he can deal with. His boss sends him up to Yorkshire to settle the affairs of an estate that, empty as it is, has the locals in the grip of a terror so strong they do everything they can to chase him away, though they refuse to tell him why. Their code of silence is, of course, a cover for a dreadful secret. Apparently, the manor is haunted by a rather vengeful ghost, whose presence is a factor in the ongoing deaths of the village children.

The rest of the story relies so heavily on convention that a mere outline of the chain of events that follows would be giving away far too much for a film whose plot follows a rather well-worn groove. The film's best aspect has to do with the way it's put together. This is one of those rare occasions when show triumphs over substance. It may be textbook but it's perfectly done, with simple elegance and respect for standard storytelling, two things not easily found in a genre awash with gorefests and faux documentaries. There's something to be said for a return to the things real nightmares are made of.

review by
Mary Harvey

5 May 2012

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