Review: THE WOMAN IN BLACK

Former wizarding student seeks single white ghost for supernatural shenanigans.

 

Directed by: James Watkins

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer

MPAA Rating: PG-13

 

 

 

Hammer Film Productions is legendary in the world of horror. They dominated the market worldwide for decades, giving us unforgettable films and performances from luminaries such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Sadly, their popularity diminished over time and their output dwindled to a slow trickle. But, in recent years, they have re-emerged to bring us new horror films and reclaim their title as a major force in the genre market. The latest film to come from this rebirth is THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Does it have the power and impact to draw in the audiences and put them on top again?

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is about a young lawyer, Arthur Kipps, whose wife died during the troubled birth of their son. Four years later, and drowning in debt, Arthur gets one final chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his employer by travelling to the rural countryside to settle the estate and affairs of the recently deceased Mrs. Alice Drablow. What he finds there is a town with a history of dead children and a secluded house with a woman in black roaming the grounds. Why are the children dying, and what does the spectral lady want?

Atmosphere is THE WOMAN IN BLACK‘s greatest strength. The locations, the set design, the lighting, and the sound effects all work together to create a wonderfully thick and foreboding atmosphere dripping with dread and despair. Assisting with this are very nice special effects. It can be difficult at times to tell what is practical and what is CGI. The film is very old-fashioned in its approach to the spiritual world, and it benefits from it. It plays it safe by including plenty of jump scares and loud noises to shake up the audience, but it is not afraid to let a handful of moments speak for themselves. Keep an eye on the screen at all times lest you miss some of the quieter glimpses of the spirits that inhabit the movie.

Daniel Radcliffe performs admirably in a role that can be somewhat thankless at times. The script doesn’t allow him much room for movement outside of being melancholic or frightened, but he proves up to the task and capable of commanding the screen. The film rests primarily on his shoulders, and he manages to leave behind the boy wizard role and feel like an adult man in over his head. The other actors perform well in their significant roles, especially Ciaran Hinds as the skeptical and trustworthy Sam Daily.

The production value overall is very well-done. Along with the aforementioned positives about the settings and atmosphere, the film is nicely shot and edited. It has a good pace, never overstaying its welcome nor allowing the audience to become bored. The music score has the occasional stings that can be tiresome, but those are accompanied by haunting and beautiful melodies making for a generally pleasant listening experience.

And that’s THE WOMAN IN BLACK. It’s not great enough to be hailed as a classic nor bold enough to be hailed as a new benchmark for horror films. Yet the film is a solid entry with enough scares to please general audiences and enough substance for those looking to escape the placation and condescension present in most modern horror movies. It may not be the film to bring Hammer Film Productions widespread recognition, but it is an admirable addition to their library and completely worth checking out.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is now playing in theaters nationwide, and it comes recommended by this critic.

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