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The Woman in Black

2012 | 95 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

The Woman in Black


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1 user review

Movie appeal




Theatrical release date

 03 February, 2012
 10 February, 2012

Country of origin

 United Kingdom

Box office




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The Woman in Black Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 3, 2012

During his tenure as the boy wizard in the “Harry Potter” franchise, star Daniel Radcliffe spent very little time away from the grind of blockbuster filmmaking, accepting challenges in the theater over building his big screen reputation. “The Woman in Black” marks the first acting effort from Radcliffe post-Hogwarts, turning to a bare bones chiller that’s almost entirely devoid of dialogue for the actor, instead deploying his well-honed abilities of wide-eyed reaction. “The Woman in Black” contains a few jumps and creeps, but it’s a disappointingly sluggish ghost story without a convincing antagonist. Admittedly, there’s a curiosity factor with Radcliffe’s performance. Beyond that, the picture doesn’t provide much excitement.

A widowed lawyer with financial issues and a lonely son, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is sent to a small village to finalize the estate of a recently deceased woman. Traveling to her empty mansion on a perilous causeway, Arthur is introduced to The Woman in Black, a malevolent spirit who haunts the property, seeking revenge on those who wronged her by killing the local children when seen. Finding the townsfolk resistant to his investigation of the house and its former inhabitants, Arthur finds a friend in Daily (Ciaran Hinds), a sympathetic fellow who reluctantly joins the young man in his effort to appease the ghost’s demands. With his son set to visit him in three days, Arthur searches for a way to break the curse, coming face to face with a poltergeist that isn’t easily dismissed.

Co-produced by Hammer Films, “The Woman in Black” is a retro horror experience in many respects, with its period setting and foggy locations, attempting to resurrect the art of the ghost story in the age of cheap thrill machines like the “Paranormal Activity” series. Adapted from Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, the feature makes a considerable effort to lose itself in atmosphere, utilizing only a minimal amount of dialogue to communicate the conflict, spending the rest of the movie studying peculiar character reactions and the tchotchke-laden haunted house. It’s a spare picture devoted to a spooky mood, observing Arthur wrestle with his persistent phantom, touring the house repeatedly to catch a look at the banshee. In fact, pretty much all Arthur does during the feature is walk about the residence, carefully entering eerie rooms clutching lit candles, occasionally witnessing The Woman in Black’s vague wrath, which typically involves the manipulation of furniture and wind-up toys, with messages written on the wall in blood to help guide our hero’s investigation.

Director James Watkins (the accomplished and merciless “Eden Lake”) maintains a decent grip on the tone of the picture, but his pacing is way off. “The Woman in Black” doesn’t offer much momentum, fixating more on ornate set design details and random community behaviors than building a relentless push of terror. Screenwriter Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”) bumbles the ghostly history, rendering the central haunting unforgivably dull with a laborious backstory that’s never probed in full. The Woman in Black is frightening to behold, with enough close-ups and spooky movement to capture attention, but her emotionally volatile motivations are blurred at best. She’s merely a poseable figure that occasionally lurches toward the camera, with Watkins employing all the stale shrieks and shouts he can gather to maintain the flow of fear.

Radcliffe doesn’t really have much to do here besides look confused and terrified -- he’s fine in a poorly written role. Even his customary physicality isn’t used in full, only exploited during a bizarre scene that finds Arthur diving into the depths of a murky marsh to retrieve a critical clue to The Woman in Black’s misery. In the end, the feature is a work of dire looks and aural jolts that doesn’t come together as a fulfilling scary movie. It’s a handsomely mounted picture, but empty when it comes to spectral inspiration, leaving Radcliffe to feign interest in the snoozy actions of a supposedly wicked witch.

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Roger Allam, Sophie Stuckey, Misha Handley
Director: James Watkins

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