It’s surprising it’s taken 30 years to turn The Woman In Black into a movie. Susan Hill’s novel has sold millions of copies, and a stage version has been running in the West End since 1989, becoming the second longest-running non-musical production ever. Now Hammer has finally managed to get it onto the screen, with Eden Lake’s James Watkins directing and Daniel Radcliffe starring.
Radcliffe plays young lawyer Arthur Kipps, a man still reeling from the death of his wife during childbirth. Having rather neglected his work, he’s given one final chance by his firm, which involves going to the remote Eel Marsh House to sort through the papers of the recently deceased owner. When he arrives in the nearby village, the locals seem singularly unwelcoming and don’t appear to want him to go to the house.
Once at Eel Marsh House, strange things begin to happen, with odd noises and things moving by themselves. Then the lawyer sees a ghostly woman in black. As Arthur attempts to do his job, the eerie things begin piling up until it becomes clear something supernatural is happening, which may be responsible for multiple child deaths and is tied to terrible events from the past.
It’s actually a relatively standard ghost story set-up, but as with the book and play, Watkins’ film realises is that it’s the way it’s told that’s important. The Woman In Black is a long exercise in the creepy, quickly building an unsettling atmosphere and then endlessly going in for the kill with jumps, shocks and horror eeriness. As the 12 certificate attests, it’s singularly lacking in blood and guts, and proves that you can put the willies up people without needing to gross them out. It should be added that just because it’s a 12 cert doesn’t mean you should automatically let your youngsters watch it, as I can imagine is causing many sleepless nights (and not just for the under 18s).
The Woman In Black superbly evocative and while the story is actually relatively slight, it works extremely well to draw you into what’s going on, with some attention also paid to ensuring you care about the characters as well. Although Radcliffe doesn’t stray too far from the rather straightforward style he honed during the Harry Potter films, he’s an effective presence at the movie’s heart. Acting honours must go to Janet McTeer though, as a woman who’s never gotten over the death of her son.
There were admittedly moments where I worried things were going to get a bit too silly, with Arthur Kipps in danger of turning into a dumb horror protagonist, who seems to be actively seeking out the most dangerous, creepiest situations to get himself into. However it’s nice they added in a bit of an explanation as to why he would run towards banging noises and ghostly apparitions rather than just getting the hell out of there.
With an almost ridiculous amount of make-you-jump moments and a plot that keeps you hooked in, The Woman In Black is great fun. It’s one of those films that makes you realise how lacklustre most other horror movies are, as without ladling on the blood and guts it can hook you in through great storytelling and technical expertise. If you saw it in the cinema (which you may well have done, as it’s the highest grossing horror film ever in the UK), you may have worried whether it translates to the small screen, but there’s no worries on that score. Indeed, as it’s largely set within a creepy house, as afterwards you’ll be jumping at every noise in your own home.
There’s also a pretty good selection of special features that take you behind the scenes of the production. Daniel Radcliffe is on hand to talk about why he was attracted to the film, while everyone else is keen to talk about how great he is. However it’s not all about Harry Potter, as director James Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman also talk about how they approached the adaptation. With various other bits and pieces, including the winning ghost story from a YouTube competition, the features really add value to the disc, which is becoming ever rarer.
Overall Verdict: A great ghost story that sucks you in and makes you constantly jump for an hour and a half. Daniel Radcliffe proves he’ll have a career long past Harry Potter.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac