It is not often that a mainstream horror movie is released to even remotely positive reviews so when it does happen I’m all over it. Aside from that The Woman in Black appealed to me for two reasons: one, it’s a gothic period piece and two, it was produced by Hammer Films. To someone unfamiliar with Hammer Films let me provide a little backstory. Hammer Films is a UK production company that was established in the 1930s and rose to fame in the 50s and 60s for their traditional Gothic horror films. Hammer Films were atmospheric, classy, and often surprising violent all in one marvelous package. They recently returned to producing films a few years ago but this is the studio’s first stab at a Gothic horror film in over thirty years. How does it stack up those original productions? I’m glad to say this is one of the scariest and most atmospheric horror movies I’ve seen in awhile.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young widower father working as a lawyer in early 1900s London. Still haunted by visions of his dead wife, Arthur must also deal with continuing pressure from his employers. So Arthur is sent to the most depressing English village you’ve ever seen to handle the Eel Marsh estate. Previously owned by the now deceased Alice Drablow, Arthur quickly discovers there’s something askew about Eel Marsh. Since the death of Drablow the town has had an unusually high child suicide rate and it is believed to be connected to her death. Thus it us up to Arthur to uncover the ghastly secrets of the “Woman in Black.”
The role of Arthur Kipps doesn’t demand much aside from someone who can act frightened and give the occasional “Who’s there?” line, but Radcliffe does a fine job. Though find it odd to see the 22 year old Radcliffe playing the father of a four year old. Not that it would be that unusual for a man that age to have a child (especially during the time period) it’s just strange to see someone we still primarily see as a child actor playing a parent. Ciaran Hinds plays a wealthy landowner who befriends Arthur and does fine job in the only other other significant role in the film, I’ver never understood why he doesn’t receive more prominent roles. Though characters aside this is a movie about the effects and atmosphere.
This film is shot in some of the most eerie locations I’ve seen in a horror movie. All of the sets are dressed in a gloomy, gothic decor that could only exist in turn of the century England. Eel Marsh itself is like a living, breathing character. It rests on raised forested hill with a lone road that periodically gets swallowed by the tide every day. So whenever Arthur is taken up to Eel Marsh you know he’s in for a long stay. The Drablow house itself is the classic haunted house filled with cobwebs and many, many creepy dolls. Of course this is where Arthur sees “The Woman in Black” figure and though the scares are sometimes cheap they are a lot of fun.
I’ve noticed in the best horror films you always find yourself continually waiting for the next daylight scene, often because that’s where you get some relief. The Woman in Black like any effective horror movie truly delivers on that constant feeling of tension and dread and it’s very thrilling. Sure, The Woman in Black lacks originality in many aspects but it takes a traditional horror style and hits every right note. For what it is this is a great scary movie.