Susan Hill’s haunting 1983 novel The Woman in Black has taken on a life of its own, spawning a classic 1990 TV movie, two BBC Radio adaptations and a West End production that has been running for over 21 years. It was only a matter of time until a film adaptation came about, with the newly rekindled Hammer taking a stab at the story.
Director James Watkins has previous with the horror genre, having directed the 2008 thriller Eden Lake and wrote the screenplays for The Descent Part II and My Little Eye, but this was a big undertaking, with the Fortune Theatre’s production being one of the longest-running shows of all time and the novel being so well-loved. Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick Ass) have done a very good job with the novel here, capturing the creeping dread of the novel and the theatre show, whilst giving the film a J-Horror style makeover.
The jumps and scares are some of the best you will find in a 12A certificate film, and while The Woman in Black shares some of the styling’s of Asian cinema, it never reaches the same heights, purely because the scares become familiar to anyone who has seen these films, or recent gems like The Orphanage and The Others. But put a bunch of 14 year olds with no previous experience with the genre in a darkened theatre with this film and you will be scraping them off the ceiling, for this is the scariest film available for the teen market by a country mile.
Daniel Radcliffe has chosen a great role to begin his post-Potter career. Arthur Kipps is a 25-year-old widower who is forced to bring up his young son alone when his wife dies in childbirth. Becoming distracted from his work, Kipps is sent to Crythin Gifford to deal with the estate of the recently deceased Mrs Alice Drablow as a last chance to save his burgeoning career at the law firm he works for.
Kipps instantly notices that something is not right in Crythin Gifford. The locals are unwelcoming, that is for the exception of Sam Daily (played by the excellent Ciaran Hinds) who takes Kipps into his home and gives him rides to and from Eel Marsh House, where the Drablow’s once lived. It is at the house that Kipps sees the woman in black, and when the children start dying.
The townspeople believe that when the woman in black is seen, a child dies, and Kipps is forced to deal with his own beliefs on the supernatural, which are becoming stronger the more time he spends in the creepy house on Eels Marsh, a dusty old relic with slamming doors and whispering shadows. There are some great scares to be had, and Radcliffe feels the brunt for most of them.
I won’t go any more into the story, mainly because it is so familiar to millions, but also because there are enough changes to the original story made by Goldman and Watkins that the story still feels fresh.
Radcliffe deserves a lot of credit, too. At 22 years of age, playing a 25-year-old haunted widower and father could have been a huge risk, but he pulls it off, showing an impressive emotional range that indicates a solid career is on the cards.
As for the film itself, it doesn’t break any new ground but it brings a new generation of fans to the attention of one of the great ghost stories of the 20th century. It could have been a cynical money-making exercise, but it’s a solid, if unspectacular entry into the supernatural film genre.