Man looks through window of mansion. Image cuts to the delipidated garden he sees. Image cuts back to man, except, instead of his face we see the pale white face of a ghostly woman. AAAAAAAHHHH!
I don’t really feel I could say more about The Woman in Black than I just did. This ghost story, a return to form by the resurrected British horror studio Hammer, chills you all the way down to the bone. Properly scary, like a really good ghost story / scary movie should be. Cinematic fear, pay good attention torture porn lovers, is based even more on that which you do not see than on that which you do see. And on the inbetween that is constituted by the things that you think you see or did not see. It is not gore, or mutilation, or pain, that terrifies us: it is the encounter with the beyond. Death, the undead, the resurrected and the remainders of what once was life.
The Woman in Black is based on a novel by Susan Hill. The story material would suggest that it is a gothic tale from the Victorian age, an era in which that which was not understandable was made understandable either with the help of the modern logic of the scientific, industrial age (Sherlock Holmes and his contemporaries), through recourse to the rumors and legends of times past (Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker) or a mixture of the two (Mary Shelley). But the novel is actually from 1983. It has since been adapted as a hugely successful stage play (running in London since 1989) and now as a moving picture, directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake) and starring Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).
That bit of casting is immediately the one thing that is truly ‘off’ with this film. Radcliffe has honestly developed in a fine actor. But at this point he is still too much Potter to me. Granted, this will remain to be true for a couple of years, but until he ahs properly outgrown the robes of Hogwarts Radcliffe had better choose roles that actually suit his age and looks. He is simply too young or too young-looking to be a widower and the father of a four-year-old son. Despite the stubble on his cheeks. Readers who remember the last scene of Deathly Hallows part II will know why.
Granted, Radcliffe does act well. Of course he has had years of experience in looking terrified at supernatural threats. His fear of the ghostly apparition of a black-clad woman in the deserted house his young lawyer is supposed to do the paper work for is believable, and crucially, felt by the audience too. And he is surrounded by reliable, more experienced actors as Ciaran Hinds, who shows us why it is such a shame he was so much underused in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Roger Allam.
Oh, and did I mention this? The film is genuinely scary. Without being gory it is really not for the faint-of-hearted. Radcliffe’s character, Arthur Kipps, is sent to a remote coastal village to do the paper work on a vacant mansion. But after he sees a female apparition in the garden surrounding the mansion children in the village start to die, and the villagers turn against Kipps…
Properly, old-fashioned, chilling scary-movie making. I was on the tip of my seat during the entire running time and the audience with whom I saw the film gasped, screamed and laughed, just as they should.