“So many…so many children”
For his first major post-Harry Potter film outing, Daniel Radcliffe went for this adaptation of Susan Hill’s bestseller The Woman In Black, directed by James Watkins. An Edwardian ghost story, widowed father Arthur Kipps’ is tasked with closing up the account of Eel Marsh House, an isolated manor in the fens, but on his arrival he finds the locals unwilling to help, strange goings-on all around him and a haunted house to shake even the most resolute of sceptics.
Skewed angles nod back to Hitchcock, the psychological horror suggests more recent exponents like Amenábar and del Toro, James Watkins is clearly skilled in the art of making people jump but what really works successfully here is the genuine sense of creepiness that imbues much of the film. This is of course most effective in the earlier two-thirds of the film when we’re still hunting for explanations – the long wordless scenes and non-explicit moments of threats have a genuinely disturbing quality – and has there ever been a more unsettling collection of wind-up figures in the world, particularly that rabbit toy.
Once it becomes apparent what is going on, just who the Woman in Black is and what needs to happen, the film loses a little of its intensity, the rattling doorknobs suddenly not quite as scary as before – I mean how scary can a muddy boy be – but Watkins tightens up another couple of notches in the final section though I really wasn’t keen on Jane Goldman’s opaque amendment to the ending.
I’m not entirely convinced that Radcliffe comes out of this in the best light, something of a blank canvas in the end who could probably have done with evincing just a tad more of a reaction at times, building layers of subtlety that are currently out of his reach. But there’s great work from Ciarán Hinds and a disturbed Janet McTeer as the kindest of the locals, Roger Allam pops up briefly as Kipps’ boss and it is never not a good day when Jessica Raine is on screen, here as a nanny who might need a quick refresher on looking after kids in dangerous places. Plus you won’t have seen Liz White looking quite like this before. So a mostly effective treatment of the story and probably not one to watch on one’s own on a dark night.