Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Plot: Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) needs to spend the night in a deceased woman’s house sorting out her affairs and he provokes the anger of a supernatural killer.
When I contemplate directing or writing a horror movie of my own, I always turn to James Watkin’s Woman in Black for inspiration. He handles horror, tension and suspense so well, we are hooked on every frame of this movie, even when it is little more than Daniel Radcliffe wandering out the same corridor time after time.
I think the 90s horrors and the awful reboot stage of the early 00s was a drop in the quality of horrors. Suddenly, you didn’t need to be that bright to film a horror movie. In fact, it began to follow a very strict pattern of bland characters that wore their personalities like a favourite top and a token bit of nudity. However, Woman in Black is one of those horror movies that just resonates intelligence. Almost every scare is worked for and shot in such a way that every drop of terror is harvested from the moment. It is such a refreshing feeling to watch a director who understands horror, because his talent and knowledge of the material makes it far more enjoyable for the audience. The horror acts like a crescendo, starting with a few shots of the eponymous woman in the background (sometimes not even scary, just there to remind us of her presence), and building up to the full reveal. Die-hard fans of the play will revolt at the idea of the woman being taken from the shadows by the end (in the stage show, we never see her outside of a few shadowy shots and there is never an actress credited for the performance), but it must be said that the final frame of this movie is one of the most haunting and chilling endings to a horror in quite a while. Her eyes cut right through you and stay in your darkest nightmares for quite a while after the end credits.
However, while the horror is done extremely well, the rest of the movie crumbles around it. The Woman in Black is afraid of becoming just another horror, so it explores the mythology of the Woman as well. While, in the moment, you might be grateful for a breather outside of the terrifying haunted house scenes, being so abruptly removed from the scares for exposition can be disorientating. The story is moderately interesting, stemming from the original play. Sadly, I felt that the Woman in Black struggled to feel overly original. We have seen the sheltered village outside the city turning on the protagonist before and the paranormal nature of the movie began to get piled on just to keep the story moving at a fast enough pace. On the other hand, the violent killing of the children was pretty brutal. I wasn’t expecting the movie to embrace their deaths in such a forthright manner and it made the movie a disturbing, yet gripping watch. It made the Woman in Black a much better, and scarier, villain, which made the end conflict even more exciting.
This also became a vehicle for Daniel Radcliffe to try his hand at acting as someone who wasn’t Harry Potter. I have never really been a big fan of the actor and I feel that a lot of the big scenes in Harry Potter failed to reach a certain level of power, because Radcliffe wasn’t strong enough to carry the scenes. Here, too, he lacks a certain stage presence. The man cannot handle dialogue to save his life, his ordinary father figure coming across as rather boring and dull. He has no chemistry with any of the other characters, leaving poor Ciaran Hinds to carry their scenes on his own shoulders. However, Radcliffe is much better at acting with his body. Whenever his mouth is shut, he actually can convey the necessary information and emotions through his eyes and body language. This helps, because for most of the movie, he is asked to react to scary noises in the Manor. Maybe this is another reason the haunted house scenes are far superior to the rest of the movie – Radcliffe doesn’t really do exposition too well.
Final Verdict: A Woman in Black is a lesson in how to make a truly scary movie. However, outside of the house scenes, it slips into standard horror territory.