Three young girls, dressed in Victorian clothing, sit on the floor of an attic having tea with their dolls. The music is sparse like that of an old music box, the lighting is cold and the shots, close ups on hands and dolls, are intercut with wider shots of the girls playing. Suddenly, something catches their attention and the three of them walk toward the windows of the attic, open them and jump.
This is the opening scene to The Woman in Black and it truly is a ghost story. Starring Daniel Radcliffe and Ciarán Hinds, the film follows the story of Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a lawyer, who is heading to a small remote village to sell the old Eel Marsh house. As soon as Kipps arrives in the village it is apparent that something is amiss as he has problems finding a place to stay in the town, parents hide their children in the house whenever he passes, and everyone in the town tries to convince him to return to London almost as soon as he arrives.
Turns out the Eel Marsh house has a history and is haunted by that history. The film then follows what I consider to be typical ghost story format. The characters proceed to figure out why the house is haunted and try to solve it. But, this story is much more complex than that. Eventually leading to a brilliant climax and ending, The Woman in Black takes a simple story and transforms it into a story that’s intriguing and yet reminiscent of the ghost story everyone has heard.
The acting by Radcliffe in this film as a widower lawyer was quite surprising. It was nice to see him in a much more serious role and not as Harry Potter. Radcliffe does a wonderful of capturing the horror and fear of someone haunted and portraying it on the screen. Hinds, who plays a wealthy man in the village and is skeptical of the superstition and hauntings, supports Radcliffe’s performance beautifully. The interplay between the two near the end of the film is crucial to the success of the story as a whole.
One of my absolute favorite aspects of this film was the sound design. It is sparse and sometimes what is expected of a ghost story, but it supports what is on the screen wholeheartedly and helps convey a sense of unease and eeriness for the audience. The cinematography is also beautiful, particularly the shots through fog where the audience feels lost.
Though I quite liked this film, there were a few aspects that I was not so keen on. I thought the child playing Radcliffe’s son was a bit old to be convincing as his son and I thought the scream of the woman in black was actually rather cheesy (I think I may have preferred if she didn’t speak at all). But, beyond that, The Woman in Black was rather eerie and I quite liked that. There were points in time where you were waiting for cheap scare and the film delivered and others where you waited and nothing came to resolve the tension. Overall, The Woman in Black is a ghost story and if you’re looking for something a bit creepy, this should fulfill those requirements.
(The film poster from CBS Films is used here under fair comment and fair use guidelines and for promotional purposes. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)