Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Woman In Black (2012) - James Watkins

Unlike your stereotypically blood-soaked Hammer horror films, The Woman In Black is the sort of supernatural tale Shelley or Stoker would be proud of - a classic, Victorian gothic ghost story.  It's the tale of Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a young, widowed and vulnerable lawyer.  Sent to a creepy village on the coast of north-east England to investigate the legal papers of a recent widow, he's haunted by more than his deceased wife.

There's only one weapon in this director's arsenal of scares - shock tactics and a good old fashioned BOO!  With little dialogue, the story is told through chilling atmosphere.  Fog rolls over the moors, candles flicker in the dark and porcelain dolls stare blankly through the screen, coupled with an overwhelming silence broken only by eerie sound design and music.  The jump-out-of-your-seat moments are easily predicted and cheap, but prove spine tingling all the same, building to a suitable crescendo.  Many tropes of gothic horror have been included which may seem cliched, but it's well paced and beautifully shot.  Indeed, The Woman In Black marks a refreshing change of pace from the incessant gore-fests that most modern horror films descend into, though it equally lacks any thought-provoking psychological implications.  Instead, it's an adrenaline fuelled thrill ride.

This film may be a step in the right direction for Radcliffe, but the shackles of Potter are not so easily shed.  In one respect he's horribly miscast.  He may technically be old enough to play a widowed father, but there's no hiding that babyface - even with the stubble on his chin and chops around his ears.  There's no depth to his Kipps, characterisation consisting predominantly of a perpetually blank expression.  It's as if he's more scared of the camera than any ghosts.  On the other hand, his casting sort of works.  Radcliffe is totally outclassed by every other actor in the film - he's a man out of his depth, but likewise so is Kipps.  Just like in Potter, Radcliffe succeeds playing himself.

Suspenseful and shocking, The Woman In Black is a simple but well executed haunted house horror film that will leave you in a cold sweat but won't haunt you in your sleep.