Movies: "The Woman in Black" | Arts & Culture
Back in the Swinging Sixties, London’s Hammer Films reinvigorated the classic horror movie, combining generous portions of nudity and gore with stellar Technicolor production values and featuring such acting greats as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. But times change, and over the past few decades Hammer was sold and went dark.
Now Hammer is back with a new focus on less lurid, but still genuinely scary, movies, including 2010’s “Let Me In” (a remake of the excellent Swedish adolescent vampire flick, “Let the Right One In”) and now with “The Woman in Black”, a handsome, very chilling Gothic ghost story, set appropriately in Victorian England.
All grown up from his Harry Potter roles, Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young London attorney who is dispatched to Yorkshire to go through the paperwork of a deceased widow. Kipps himself is a widower; his wife died in childbirth and he now leaves his four year old son in the care of a nanny. They will join him in the north country in a few days.
But when Kipps arrives at the village, he meets a chilly reception. There’s no room for him at the inn, the locals scurry indoors when he passes by, and the crumbling estate he is to do the paperwork for is set on a remote island, cut off from the mainland by high tides. The only person in town who seems the least bit friendly is the wealthy Mr. Daily (the great Ciaran Hinds), whose dotty wife (Janet McTeer, who can also be seen in “Albert Nobbs”) feeds her pugs at the table and falls into swoons like clockwork.
As Kipps spends more and more time at the spooky old estate, strange things start happening. He catches glimpses of a mysterious woman -- you guessed it -- in black, and before long, he learns of a Terrible Secret, one that has cursed the entire village over the years.
All good horror movies are based on some deep, primal fear -- whether it’s childbirth (“Rosemary’s Baby”), marital estrangement (“The Shining”) or adolescence (“Carrie”) -- and “The Woman in Black” is grounded in one of the saddest of them all, the deaths of children.
The movie was directed by James Watkins, with a screenplay by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill. The excellent period production design is by Kave Quinn, whose earlier films include “Trainspotting”, “Harry Brown” and “Layer Cake.” The music is by Marco Beltrami (“Mesrine” and “The Hurt Locker”), but much of the film’s tension rises during moments of utter silence or the tinkling of creepy Victorian wind-up toys.
Radcliffe is entirely believable as a wounded widower trying to fathom an otherworldly mystery. Hinds too performs admirably as a man who has also been marked by tragedy yet clings to his belief in science despite the growing evidence to the contrary. Their efforts to resolve the mystery that cursed the village will culminate in one final encounter with the woman in black.
The movie is rated PG-13. There’s some blood, but most of the scares are suggested rather than splattered on the screen. Even so, I guarantee you will feel a tingle in your spine. I give it a B-Plus.