'The Woman in Black' — creepy, but not as good as the book
In this review of "The Woman in Black," Daniel Radcliffe's first film since he starred in the Harry Potter films, Seattle Times film critic Moria Macdonald praises Radcliffe for a fine, un-Harried performance and says the film is as advertised, very scary.
Seattle Times movie critic
'The Woman in Black,' with Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White. Directed by James Watkins, from a screenplay by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images. Several theaters.
An abandoned old house with windows like dark eyes; its interior strewn with dead leaves and cobwebs, its outer walls shrouded in mists. A story, told in whispers, of a drowned child and a body never found. A young man, himself haunted by loss and grief, arriving alone at the house to unravel a troubling mystery. And a noise in the night, down the hall, from a room that's surely empty ... or is it?
Originally a brief 1982 novel by Susan Hill, and later transformed into a long-running London stage play, "The Woman in Black" is an elegantly old-fashioned exercise in Gothic horror; a reminder that often what scares us most isn't the gruesome or the gory, but the sounds in a dark house that we can't explain. While it's been tarted up a bit for James Watkins' movie version — screenwriter Jane Goldman has added some grim child deaths, lurid words on the wall in blood, an over-the-top local madwoman (played by Janet McTeer) and a graveside scene late in the film that makes little sense — the essence of the story survives.
Attorney Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a widower and young father, arrives at the old house in a remote English village long ago (the time frame isn't entirely clear, but the costumes and sets indicate sometime near the end of World War I), intent on pleasing his boss back in London by sorting out a recently deceased woman's murky estate. But it's soon clear that this once-grand house conceals some dark secrets: A mysterious woman, veiled in black, lurks in the graveyard outside — and soon, to Kipps' terror, appears inside the house as well. The story unfolds swiftly, filled with creepy shots of mildewed toys and the eerie sounds of bird wings flapping and children — somewhere — wailing.
It's a bold choice for Radcliffe as his first post-"Harry Potter" film role: For much of the film he's alone on screen, carrying the suspense on his shoulders. But he pulls it off beautifully, without a trace of Hogwarts; here, he's an adult still agonizing over the loss of his lovely young wife (he still frequently fingers his wedding ring, four years after her death) and worrying about his absence from his son. He looks tired and old beyond his years — even before arriving here, Kipps has seen too much.
The ending's not as affecting as that of the book (or the play), as the movie seems to go a little soft before fading out. But this "Woman in Black" mostly works its magic effectively, in little jolts of fear found in shadows and sudden glimpses, leaving us jumpy and nervous about things that go bump in the night.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org