Daniel Radcliffe makes his big non-Harry Potter film return starring in The Woman in Black; a film based on the horror novel by Susan Hill. The film is without a doubt spooky and suspenseful in its first act, but what starts as a slow-burn haunting quickly becomes just another rushed ghost tale, that is focused on making the viewer jump as many times as possible, regardless on if that actual scenario makes any sense at all. The Woman in Black feels like a film without a middle chapter. It starts strong, keeping the scares coming at perfect intervals, but then it jumps ship and starts wrapping up without anything connecting A to B.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young lawyer who recently lost his wife and is left all alone with their young boy. He’s trying his best to cope with the death of a loved one by taking the next case to get his mind back on track. He goes to a remote village to gather some final paperwork for closing a house that has been notoriously known for bringing bad luck in the form of death. The Eel Marsh house has a bizarre history. An innocent young child was kept from his mother, which eventually led to the death of the boy and the suicide of the mother. Now, the ghost of the mother can be seen wearing all black, wandering the grounds.
Whenever she is seen, death follows hastily. She is said to take the soul of a young child whenever someone provokes her. As soon as Arthur arrives, the local townspeople try their hardest to keep him far away from the house, in hopes that their children live to see another day. The more Arthur digs into the history of the house and the ghosts that haunt it, the more he puts the lives of many children in danger, including his own son.
The Woman in Black is your typical yearly horror film that’s been adapted from a famous novel. It doesn’t grasp your attention to the point of rushing out to buy the novel and it doesn’t really become a complete throw away movie. It skids under average mark. Director James Watkins does a great job of establishing the spooky atmosphere in the opening act, filling up the screen with a foggy darkness that hovers above Arthur’s head throughout the entire film. The scares are often built up with silence and curiosity.
The results, for the most part, are pleasing. When Arthur is startled by a ghost or creepy image, he doesn’t run out of the house in fear, he instead stays around to investigate further. Very little actually shakes him to the point of stepping back. He has backbone and actor Daniel Radcliffe does his best to present that, despite being horribly miscast. He’s just too young and boyish looking to really be taken seriously. Looking at him and trying to believe that he has a kid and a wife is just too hard. It looks like he had enough troubles growing his little chin stubble, let alone grieve over a dead spouse.
But his talent makes up for his looks. He approaches Arthur with logic and the means to get things done, no matter the cost. He doesn’t back down when he first starts seeing weird things around the house, in fact, he runs outside towards the cemetery when he sees a mysterious shadow. He’s the kind of character that you’ve always wanted in this kind of film.
Radcliffe is basically the only interesting character in the film. Ciarán Hinds pops in on occasion as Daily; the only person that isn’t afraid to talk or help young Arthur. He offers him rides and tells him stories of the Eel Marsh house, but he mostly is only in the film to help break up the long scenes of Arthur tiptoeing around the house. It’s not Hinds best work, but it’s always good to see a familiar face.
The biggest problem I have with The Woman in Black is the films lack of a middle act. Things get really tense as Arthur investigates the house and encounters all sorts of ghouls, but then he’s randomly given an idea that could put an end to all of the haunting. It’s an idea that you knew was coming, but the way it just sort of pops up out of the blue is what frustrates me. That’s when the film loses me and ruins almost everything it had previously established. The slow-burn reveals are swapped out for quick solutions that are illogical and idiotic. To make matters worse, the ending of the film is another cheap and forced idea that was barely brought up in the film.
The film feels like it’s missing a good 20 or 30 minutes to really tie the first act with the last act. It jumps from being an effective thriller, with some well-timed scares to a messy and cheap horror film that throws away any feelings you may or may not have had for Arthur in exchange for a quick wrap up that tries to make the film complete, but ends up making it feel like a joke. It’s a bummer too, because Radcliffe seems to be trying his best to stretch the thin material and director James Watkins has no problems backing that up by keeping the thrills coming around every corner. The Woman in Black as it stands now, feels like an incomplete film that’s missing a middle act and a proper ending. I’d love to know if there is an extended director’s cut floating around somewhere.
The Woman in Black – 6.5/10