DIR: James Watkins • WRI: Jane Goldman • PRO: Richard Jackson, Simon Oakes, Brian Oliver • DOP: Tim Maurice-Jones • ED: Jon Harris • DES: Kave Quinn • Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds

Like it or not the Harry Potter movies are over, and actor Daniel Radcliffe – despite having enough in the bank to walk away forever – is trying to move onto the next stage of his career. He’s already performed on stage to some acclaim, but his next movie project was always going to be highly-anticipated, and doubtless the knives were out when it was announced he’d be donning sideburns for a Victorian horror story.

Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a widow and single father following the death of his wife in childbirth. But money still has to be made, and his law firm boss sends him off on a last-chance assignment to sort out the will of Alice Drablow, the last resident of Eel Marsh House. As soon as he arrives in the small village nearby, things seem wrong. The locals don’t want him to stay, children are hurried indoors when he passes by, and only local landlord Daily (Hinds) offers the hand of friendship.

Eel Marsh House is on at island at the end of a causeway that gets cut off by the tide twice a day, and en route Arthur sees a cross in the boggy marshland. On arrival at the spooky, dusty house he gets to work exploring and working – but then he begins to hear noises upstairs, and then sees a mysterious Woman in Black in the grounds.

Soon Arthur learns that all the locals have lost children in unexplained accidents, and though Daily dismisses it all as superstition (despite his wife (McTeer) and her obsession with their own dead child), Arthur realizes that his own son’s imminent arrival could be a journey to death.

Establishing a frightening tone immediately (three small girls calmly jump from a building together), this is classic, haunted house, jump-out-of-your-seat stuff. There’s minimal dialogue and almost no music, with the sounds of creaking wood, footsteps and unexplained noises doing all the work instead of lots of blood, over-the-top CGI and an obvious soundtrack.

That may explain its short running time – it’s really only the last 10 minutes or so before there’s any real pace to the story – and as ever with horror movies it’s always hard to understand why people ignore warning signs and go into the cellar or out into the dark.

Adapted from the book by Susan Hill (and with a stage version that’s been running in London since 1989 – the second longest-running play ever next to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – this movie is from raised-from-the-dead British studio Hammer and, despite Radcliffe’s struggle to convey fear or surprise very well, solid performances, stunning scenery and tight direction make for a surprisingly good shocker. Hopefully Harry fans will give it a try!

James Bartlett

Rated 15A
The Woman in Black is released on 10th February 2012



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