Movie Review: “The Woman in Black”

Written by Alicia Kaiser February 15, 2012

Harry Potter versus his scariest ghosts yet.

Straight up, this movie gave me intense heebie-jeebies. Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 horror fiction novel of the same name, The Woman in Black is your standard issue ghost story with a period shift. Though ultimately conventional in its plot twists and turns and its use of suspense to terrorize the audience, the movie succeeds in its simple goal to be 100 per cent creepy. The film is short, definitely not sweet, and realizes all that it promises to do. Very rarely am I as pleased, in reflection, with a horror film as I am with The Woman in Black. 

Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young father, widower, struggling estate lawyer and all-around broody guy. It only takes about twenty minutes of the film for the viewer to get over Harry Potter and get on board with Mr. Kipps. The challenge is definitely there – “He’s a dad? A lawyer? No wand? What the hell?” – but he is convincing enough in the swing of it to allow us to move on. It was a first solid maneuver on Radcliffe’s part to get away from his typecasting, for sure.

We are introduced Kipps while he is going through some financial strains. Understandably, taking care of his four-year-old son, Joseph, and having to pay for a nanny while he’s working and bereft of his dead wife is tough stuff. Looking for some fruitful work, Kipps takes a job north east of England at a stunning, albeit crazy-gloomy, abode called Eel Marsh House where he will be handling the estate of the late Alice Drablow. Seems easy enough, right?

When Kipps arrives the locals are intensely unwelcoming and more-or-less ostracize him from the get go. They refuse to make his access to the house easy, though eventually he gets to Eel Marsh House because no one could successfully contend with his desire to get paid. Turns out, Eel Marsh house is haunted. WAY haunted. And, as fate would have it, the whole town knows that this house is haunted but didn’t tell Kipps (and surprisingly, it all makes sense as to why that is in the film). From here The Woman in Black takes off and becomes nothing short of heart-attack city.

I sincerely approve of this movie because even though it is not the most adventuresome or original, it truly delivered all it advertised with unassuming skill. It’s got kickass Edwardian costumes, an intensely beautiful and creepy gothic setting, a protagonist – completely average in his abilities and demeanor – at the definitive mercy of an angry angry ghost (there are no Ghost Busters in this movie, I tell you) and ultimately succeeds in delivering both suspense and terror.

The unforgettable standout sequence of the film is, in fact, a lengthy one in which Kipps executes a meticulous search of the Eel Marsh House by candlelight. There is a repetitive cycle in which the sense of dread builds to an almost unbearable level only to be released by a shock – some cheap, some hilarious and some terrifying – before the whole thing starts over again. Post-scene my body was so stressed out it was all I could do to just refrain from weeping out of exhaustion.

The only criticism I might impose on The Woman in Black is what it fails to offer to Radcliffe’s repertoire. While Radcliffe portrays Kipps’ brooding persona with a skilled grace, the character itself is not doing much to overhaul the viewer’s senses or to display Radcliffe’s acting range. This simply is not a character-based film. Kipps is not so much acting a part as reacting to a series of suspenseful and supernatural events (which he does do convincingly). The problem, I suppose, is that Radcliffe’s casting was more a shameless promotion for an otherwise obscure film and I am willing to forgive this flaw.

Overall, The Woman in Black was a success not only in renovating the poltergeist convention to make it something consistently palatable and entertaining – running at only ninety minutes, the film leaves no opportunity for the story to drag – but it was also an effective first leap for Daniel Radcliffe away from Harry Potter. By no means is this the greatest film, nor does Radcliffe put on an earth-shattering performance, but it does prevail as Radcliffe at least shows us glimpses of what he is capable of. I give a solid fist punch to this film and absolutely recommend it to those looking for a good ol’ fashioned, unpretentious scare. The only piece of advice I can give is to consider wearing a diaper. Things have the potential to get messy.

My Rating: 7.5/10


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About Alicia Kaiser

Alicia Kaiser

Alicia Kaiser: University student; Movie enthusiast; Nerd. She enjoys reading, writing, partaking in shenanigans and making sweet crafts. Currently, she is simultaneously employed by and a student at the University of Victoria. While she moseys towards her degree with Major in English Literature and a Minor in Professional Writing, she can be found in UVic Marketing doing cool, grown-up stuff. For Alicia, watching movies is comparable to (if not more important than), eating, sleeping and physical activity. Her reviews are full of passion, pizzazz, analysis, and introspection. Enjoy.

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