Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciáran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Directed by: James Watkins (“Eden Lake”)
Written by: Jane Goldman (“X-Men: First Class”)
There’s a reason why censorship boards cut the scene in the 1931 horror movie classic “Frankenstein,” where the Monster tosses a happy little girl into a lake and drowns her. No one wants to see an innocent child die (even if accidentally), especially in the spirit of entertainment. Eighty years later, not much has changed on the mainstream horror front.
While there are a few exceptions (Gage getting leveled by a semi-truck in “Pet Sematary”) most are anomalies, which is why in “The Woman in Black” when three little girls in frilly Sunday dresses do something terrible just moments after playing tea party it leaves such a disturbing impression. As more of these incidences follow, one might think they’ve walked into one of the gutsiest horror movies ever made. Hell, even Stanley Kubrick didn’t let Jack Nicholson bludgeon the troubled tike in “The Shining” (“redrum, redrum”) to death. Unfortunately, beyond the unsettling idea of children doing creepy stuff they shouldn’t be doing, “The Woman in Black” manages to slump back into conventional storytelling and does so in the most monotonous fashion.
In his first film post Harry Potter fame, actor Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer sent to a house in a remote village to sift through the estate paperwork of the recently deceased homeowner. Upon arrival Arthur begins to realize no one wants him poking around, for fear he will unearth the vengeful entity haunting the residence and trigger horrible incidents for the families in the area.
Based on the book of the same name by Susan Hill, which was adapted into at TV movie in 1989, “The Woman in Black” hits on most of the clichés of any typical ghost story and never lets up until the predictable ending. During most of this gothic horror, we watch Radcliffe tiptoeing down long hallways in real time, investigating creaky noises around corners, and starring dolefully out windows at the English marshland. Not even the woman dressed in black, who occasionally appears to him, brings much tension to the script. It’s unfortunate, since the murky look of the film and collection of eerie set pieces – which include rickety toys and ominous statues – add to the miserable atmosphere.
Radcliffe, who can probably steal a few roles away from British actors like James McAvoy and Jamie Bell in the future, will be fine without his Potter safety net. But it’s going to take more than a few cheap scares from a dowdy ghost lady before anyone takes notice.