Although having been involved in other film projects around Harry Potter, the transition from boy wizard notoriety to serious adult acting was always going to be a huge step for Daniel Radcliffe. Having Hammer Films behind him is reassurance enough, but the role of embattled young lawyer and father Arthur Kipps in director James Watkins’ authentic spooky horror The Woman In Black may feel an odd casting for the actor and worse, be too similar in supernatural substance to his Potter role to clearly define his acting rebirth.
Based on Susan Hill’s novel and adapted for the screen by Kick-Ass scribe Jane Goldman, the Edwardian-era story follows Kipps, a widower and father, who has a last chance to revive his legal career and pay off his mounting debts by being sent by his employer to a remote village to sort out the estate of Alice Drablow who owned Eel Marsh. His welcome in the town is less than frosty, and he discovers a vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorising the locals.
Any horror fan will find Watkins’ beautifully captured offering a satisfying watch, exempt from too many effects. It’s old-school horror in a way that it builds a sense of foreboding – and has one of the creepiest collections of scary-looking period dolls ever seen on screen. It’s a ‘behind you’ fest of in-your-face jump tactics that certainly do their required job, relying as much on sound to whip you into a chilling frenzy as the visuals.
The plot is fairly standard, with the usual superstitious goings-on, a Hammer trademark of odd village folk wary of all outsiders and guarding secrets, entities running around the haunted house, and visits to overgrown graveyards and tombs to put things right. Its most dramatic rescue scene in the boggy marsh shows Radcliffe coming to the rescue in Potter mode again, and is stunningly filmed in the same gloomy production design palette as the recent TV hit, Great Expectations. All in all, Radcliffe’s further discoveries prove a satisfying and engaging watch.
However, Radcliffe as a father in this isn’t quite credible, and as Radcliffe plays it safe, using much the same expressions as we’ve seen him use in his hunt for Voldermort, there is no distinguishing fact that will set this film apart – it even has a Hogwarts Express train sequence. Even though Potter fans will still delight in seeing their hero unravelling a ghostly mystery – minus Ron and Hermione, it does not feel as bold a move as Radcliffe could have made. Hence, in the light of the massive success of the Potter franchise, this film stays firmly in the shadows and is easily forgotten. It’s a shame as its production values and the compelling appearance of Ciarán Hinds as Daily, a local businessman who assists Kipps in solving the mystery, still do not elevate The Woman In Black up where it should be.