- Running time:
- 95 minutes
- Daniel Radcliffe -
- Arthur Kipps
- Misha Handley -
- Joseph Kipps
- Roger Allam -
- Mr. Bentley
- Ciarán Hinds -
- Mr. Daily
- Janet McTeer -
- Mrs. Daily
Young widower Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) has never quite recovered from his wife’s death during childbirth four years ago, neglecting both his son (Misha Handley) and law career during the prolonged grieving process. His boss gives him one last chance to prove he can pull his weight: travel from London to the small village of Crythin Gifford to sort out the estate of a deceased eccentric. When Arthur arrives in town he quickly realizes there’s a more sinister element to the job. All the locals believe the dead man’s mansion—known as Eel Marsh House—is haunted by the spirit of a mysterious and vengeful woman in black.
The buzz: Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same name—which was subsequently adapted into a stage play that opened in London’s West End in 1989 and has been running ever since—“The Woman in Black” is a popular and well-regarded horror tale, overdue for feature film treatment. Its arrival on the big screen just happens to mark Radcliffe’s first starring role after last year’s epic finale in the über-successful “Harry Potter” franchise. Can director James Watkins (“Eden Lake”) and screenwriter Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class”) help Radcliffe prove he’s more than just a boy wizard? Taking some liberties with Hill’s novel to make the story a more personal journey for Arthur could be a start.
The verdict: How legitimately scary you find “The Woman in Black” will depend on your feelings about funhouse-level frights—things or people suddenly popping into frame accompanied by a loud clang on the soundtrack. Subtlety is not the point here, an approach that’s also reflected in the film’s heavy-handed themes reminding us ghost stories are simultaneously about both a fear of dying and a desire to believe in life after death. But even if “Woman” puts everything on the surface, it’s still an old-fashioned pleasure crafted with an obvious love of the genre by Watkins and boasting a committed lead performance from Radcliffe. It’ll take more than one movie—and more than one year’s time—for the actor to shake off the “Potter” baggage, but a psychologically complex and emotionally nuanced turn like this is a good start. Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer add gravitas to small but pivotal supporting roles, but this is primarily Radcliffe’s show and he carries even long dialogue-free stretches with intelligence and charisma. “The Woman in Black” doesn’t reinvent the ghost story. It simply proves there’s no need to bury the genre just yet.
Did you know? Misha Handley, the young actor who plays Radcliffe’s on screen son, is his real life godson. Handley is the son of Thea Sharrock, who directed Radcliffe’s infamous stage debut, “Equus.”
Follow Metromix's Geoff Berkshire on Twitter: @geoffberkshire
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