Release Date (UK) – 10th February 2012
Certificate (UK) – 12A
Running Time – 95 minutes
Country – UK/Canada
Director – James Watkins
Stars – Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Alisa Khazanova
As is usually the case when someone plays the lead role in a $7.7 billion grossing film franchise, everyone was waiting to see what Daniel Radcliffe would do next. Well, he chose to do a horror film. Yawn. These days most horror films are schlock – however, Hammer Film Productions are now back on the scene. With 2010’s Let Me In revitalising the company’s name thanks to its extremely creepy adaptation of John Lindqvist’s novel, Let The Right One In, Hammer has set out to scare the bejesus out of us again with a new re-imagining of Susan Hill’s 1983 ghost story, The Woman In Black.
If you haven’t read the novel, seen the play or watched the original 1989 television movie (which incidentally starred Adrian Rawlins – who played Harry Potter’s father, James – in the same role as Radcliffe) don’t feel lost, the story is a simple one. Arthur Kipps, a young, widowed father and solicitor is sent to a foreboding, remote seaside village to settle the affairs of the recently deceased outcast Alice Drablow. During his stay, Kipps is desperately urged to leave the village for unknown reasons. Whilst at the Drablow residence Kipps slowly uncovers the grisly and supernatural horrors that have been haunting the villagers, but not before those very horrors begin to target him, and therefore others as well, as he seeks a way to amend the wrongdoings of the past and return safely to his child.
They just don’t make them like this anymore. Hammer horror has been kicking around since 1955 and has brought us such classics as The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), The Phantom of the Opera (1962) and the all-famous Dracula (1958) starring Christopher Lee, but disappeared 30 years ago. The very notion of a British-funded, quality horror film flaunting itself amongst most of today’s dross is a very pleasant one because The Woman In Black is a very terrifying film indeed (somewhat controversially re-edited to get the film a 12A certificate).
Aside from a chilling opening sequence, it takes the film a while to find its footing as it runs through its awkwardly forward “so-and-so-character shouldn’t be here!” routine, complete with some questionable dialogue – whilst the audience is still trying to adjust to Radcliffe in a new (leading) role. Once the film has settled and we’ve bought Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipp, the story begins to have fun with the audience, by treating us to some by-the-books scares, randomly flashing things in our faces accompanied by loud sounds. Therein lies The Woman In Black’s trick – intentionally or by accident; by spooking us with tedious screams, the true horrors, the subtle movements of the shadows, the scary, drawn out sequences involving some truly horrific scares begin to unveil themselves. I don’t claim to be someone hard to scare; but more than once the film had me whimpering like a child – and if I have had a pillow in the cinema I would have definitely hidden behind it.
The key to the film’s effect is its authenticity. Not just the visual period-ness of the film but writer Jane Goldman’s ability to put conflicting characters into desperate contexts and the friendly ones into extreme situations of self-doubt is superb. This is where Radcliffe’s Kipp and Ciarán Hinds’ Sam Daily (the only villager to ‘befriend’ Arthur) really tap into our empathetic feelings, which in turn puts the willies up the audience when they lose their heads – metaphorically speaking.
Aside from the slow start the only other qualm lies with the film’s score which is generally forgettable – but the nursery rhyme-reciting children sing-a-longs that accompany many of the film’s harrowing moments is suitably spine-tingling.
The Woman In Black is another triumphant step in the return of Hammer horror. The performances are solid; the direction and especially the editing are stellar, and the terror is unimaginable. And whilst fear is all relative and unique for each cinema-goer, I can’t deny that this is the most petrifying film that I have seen since I watched The Exorcist, aged 9.