The Woman In Black ***1/2 (out of five)
Daniel Radcliffe – a man whose good fortune surpasses yours and mine – has made a wise choice in picking The Woman In Black as his first major post-Potter starring vehicle. This stylish, old-fashioned, creepy and expertly crafted thriller fits him like a glove. Wearing his high-collared white shirt, tie, vest and long black coat very naturally, Radcliffe looks very much in place in the 1910s, the era in which this solidly entertaining mixture of ghost story and haunted house spooker is set.
I had a misspent celluloid youth and definitely discovered some hardcore horror movies too young – An American Werewolf In London, at age ten and in the cinema, was a mistake – but this would be the perfect “intro” horror film for a twelve year old. It’s definitely creepy, occasionally scary, and has a few good jolts as well. The story’s themes are suitably adult for all to enjoy but not too intense for a young one (unlike, say, Rosemary’s Baby – kids shouldn’t really deal with devil-rape).
Radcliffe plays a young lawyer who has a mission to finalise details, paperwork and other outstanding issues in order to facilitate the sale of an abandoned old house in the northern marshes. Suffice to say, the house is haunted. Things get spooky.
Director James Watkins is, thus far, a genre filmmaker, specialising in horror. His first film as director, Eden Lake, and his most influential as a writer, My Little Eye, are both much edgier – and scarier – than this one. I suspect he was working within some set of limits. Radcliffe carries with him an unbelievably large fan base, of whom the aggregate could be supposed to be girls in their late teens and early twenties, who have grown up with him at Hogwarts, and do not want to see the kind of extreme horror that Watkins might have liked to serve up. Nevertheless, he still manages to get in a lot of chilly atmosphere, particularly involving spooky kids. Why are little girls, if cast and filmed right, the creepiest trope in cinema?
I had a great time watching The Woman in Black. It is magnificently photographed (by Tim Maurice-Jones) and, unusually for a horror film, it boasts really terrific supporting performances in the form of Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer, who is an actress capable of pretty much anything. I felt a little like a kid again – perhaps because the last time I read novels that were of this variety was when I was a kid. It’s a good clean, very British romp – the kind of horror movie you could take your mum to. As long as you’re not hoping to be scared to death, you’ll have a great time, too.
I wasn’t a Potter fan, but I’m now a Radcliffe fan. Let’s hope he keeps his choices real; I really don’t want to see him in a buddy cop flick with Bruce Willis. The Woman In Black is right in his wheelhouse.