Set at the turn of the century, the film stars Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer and single father who is struggling to keep his job since the untimely death of his wife, during childbirth. Struggling to support their young son, Arthur agrees to settle the affairs of the late Alice Drablow, and travels to a small town in North East England in the hopes of selling her property, Eel Marsh House. He finds the town gripped by terror, as people's children keep dying in violent or unnatural circumstances, shepherded into death by the vengeful presence of a ghostly woman, veiled in black.
Modern ghost stories are comparatively rare, it seems. Films like Paranormal Activity and Insidious have misappropriated the popular tropes of movies about ghosts, and reimagined them as the work of demons and monsters. The principal difference between those films and The Woman In Black, aside from the ghost-demon thing, is that each of those films were released with a 15 certificate. This one is certified 12A, and was cut down from a 15, by request of the distributor. Having now seen the film, I submit that The Woman In Black is why we have those "over-18" adults-only screenings.
What the film should represent, were it not for that dratted 12A certificate, is a full-blooded return to Hammer. The combination of James Watkin gleefully directing Jane Goldman's spooky, jolting script serves to properly air out the niche that the studio used to occupy. It provides a romping ghost-train ride of a horror film, in the vein of Insidious and its ilk, while still keeping up the historical British perspective, and it's precisely the kind of thing the studio needed after their slow start with derivative American-set thrillers like Let Me In or The Resident. It doesn't quite have Wake Wood's teeth, but let's hope the commercial success of this as a 12A film doesn't lead to all of their future projects trying to capture the same irritating audience.
Don't get me wrong- I've said before and will say again that I love to see horror movies that capture a proper atmosphere of terror, and I definitely don't mind it when people jump out of their seats, or even when they give into nervous giggles. Fun, jumpy horror films are precisely my kind of horror film, provided the jump scares are actually related to the plot, and not, say, Cat Scares. I especially loved the ten minute passage of this film, in which Arthur stays in Eel Marsh House overnight, that had the whole cinema on tenterhooks. The times between the screams were quieter than any other part of the movie- for once, none of the kids were talking about it in between.
Radcliffe might not entirely convince as a bereaved single father, but he holds his own in what is patently not an actor's film. It's a simple story, which is not to say that it's a slim story. In certain parts, like that ten minute sequence I mentioned above, those who are following the story might get a little frustrated by the repetition of "Arthur goes upstairs, Arthur goes downstairs" that drives the narrative, but everybody's motivations are clear throughout. Goldman pays due notice to the usual questions, like "Why wouldn't he just leave?" and "Why is the ghost so pissed off?", which allowed me to properly soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the film, audience notwithstanding.
The Woman In Black is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Woman In Black, why not share your comments below? Also, I'm interested to hear from Hammer fans who have been charting the resurgence- did you enjoy this as much as Hammer's other output?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.