Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Woman in Black

Hammer Horrors latest turnout provides a strong post-Potter performance for Daniel Radcliffe and shows just how terrifying a rocking chair can be.

The Woman in Black
James Watkins // 2012 // 12A // 95 mins

The story follows widowed solicitor Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) as he leaves his four year old son for a few days to attend to the papers of recently deceased Mrs Drablow, the last remaining occupant of Eel Marsh House -or so he thinks. After arriving in the small town of Crythin Gifford, Kipps is made less than welcome, with the locals suspiciously pulling out every stop to get him to him leave. He presses on however, and after securing transport to the remote house find himself surrounded by shadowy figures, doors that open by themselves and the towns largest collection of monkey figurines.

Locked up in the old house for hours at a time Kipps finds himself hearing strange sounds echoing throughout the old rooms, and despite being told point blank to not go 'chasing shadows' he eagerly trots after the first three that crop up. Eventually he discovers that the reasoning behind the locals' hostility is their superstitious fears about a menacing spirit that occupies the house he is visiting, and the fatal events which follow a sighting of her. Unfortunately, Kipps has already seen this figure roaming the manors grounds, and sure enough, another tragedy befalls the village. Instead of taking the hint and heading back to London like any rational person, our protagonist takes it upon himself to try and bring an end to the ghostly occurrences.

The film, an adaptation of Susan Hills 1983 novel, relies on numerous classics of the ghost story sub-genre to set up its endless selection of scares, long, dark corridors, misty gave yards and even the occasional 'face appearing in a window' trick. But for all it's clichés the film does deliver some genuine jump out of your seat moments, one of the most successful being an intensely long sequence featuring the aforementioned rocking chair. The Woman in Black herself pops up, sometimes expectedly, around almost any corner she can find, and this is one of the films downfalls, in that the more we see of her, the less terrifying she becomes, save for her final appearance. Anyone going into this film with a pre-existing fear of children's toys may also want to reassess their visit, as the film throws unsettling close ups of creepy porcelain faces at the viewer left, right and centre.

Daniel Radcliffe himself puts in a terrific performance as the haunted lawyer trying to unravel the towns secrets. Complete with an ever-present stubble and Mr Darcy sideburns, proof that he is old enough to have a toddler and dead wife, he plays the wide-eyed victim of these terrifying encounters particularly well. The stigma of Harry Potter is still present, the more hardcore Potter fans may find themselves restraining the urge to shout out 'Alohamora' during one sequence with a particularly uncooperative door, however Radcliffe pulls out a confident performance that is a sure sign of his staying power in the business. Strong support comes from performances by Ciarán Hinds as Sam Daily, the only local who doesn't believe in the superstitions, and his wife, played by Janet McTeer, who may just give the spectre a run for her money in eeriness.

In all, The Woman in Black delivers a genuinely scary experience, albeit sometimes predictable. The story itself is both brilliant and tragic, although it does alter the original plot of the book, and successfully delivers shovel-loads of atmosphere. If for nothing else, you should see it to witness what may be the single most chilling use of the maracas in a film ever.

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