The Woman in Black

Although engaging from the first scene, The Woman in Black trades what could have been a chilling atmosphere for traditional jump scares.

Even before J K Rowling started work on her last Harry Potter novel, questions were raised as to what lay ahead for Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. For child actors who grew into immense fame and fortune overnight, industry pundits have assumed that the trio would need more than a magic wand to woo audiences that are not Harry Potter fans. To his advantage, Radcliffe appears to be burning bridges between Hogwarts and the real world that exists beyond. For his first major role outside the highly protective dome of a $7 billion (global box-office) film franchise, Radcliffe may be on the right path to disproving the theory that child actors seldom make the transition from juvenile charm to crowd pulling adult stars.

Set during the early 20th century in Edwardian England, Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer haunted by the tragic loss of his wife during childbirth. Struggling with this troubled past and stress from his law firm boss, Kipps is sent to handle the estate of the Late Alice Drablow. Before Kipps has a chance to recover Drablow’s last will and testament, he is intimidated by townsfolk who consider his arrival as a bad omen. Sure enough, bad things start to happen, including apparitions of a woman dressed in black and the mysterious death of random children. Along with his only friend Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), Kipps digs deeper into the unknown before arriving at a perilous yet shocking revelation.

In keeping with the genre, director James Watkins’ final product is nothing new with a central plot that appears to stem from a cross between Friday the 13th and The Ring – both horror films with a central theme of malevolent vengeance. That being said, pivotal to the fright factor is Watkins’ use of perfectly timed suspense. Even so, predictability is on a tight leash, allowing the viewer little chance of preparing for a frightening moment. My only problem is that these moments, though scary, are few and scattered. Although this may have been intentional, it’s fair to say that pacing and a darkening tone more than makes up with never a dull moment. The story is also engaging right from the very first scene and it soon becomes clear who the woman is black is. Central to the plot, and the mystery, is why she does what she does and the motive behind her evil vengeance.

Shouldering the bulk of the story, Radcliffe is not exactly phenomenal, but neither does he stick out like a sore thumb either. If this movie is any indication, it’s safe to say that Radcliffe has broken free of the Harry Potter mold with distinctive promise as an up-and- coming actor. On the other hand, as a horror film with a supernatural premise, there is more to be desired. For a remake adapted from Susan Hill’s novel of the same name, this film offers some truly jumpy moments by trading chilling atmosphere in favor of intentionally pulling the rug under the viewer. Not to say that this film is completely void of a creepy atmosphere, it’s just that Watkins seems to have placed all his chips on fright tactics rather than focusing on making the entire film a disturbing experience for the viewer. This becomes evident right from the start and each time you jump off your seat, it’s like hearing a prankster say “gotchya!” Towards the end, I was starting to get an unnerving feeling that Watkins intended to terrorize the audience more than central characters in the movie. Fair enough for a horror movie, but you’ll get my point with the very last scene, echoing the words “you’re next!”

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.