Review: The Woman In Black (2012)

Director: James Watkins

***

In one of his early shows, Eddie Izzard has a skit about horror film clichés. He talks about the outsiders entering a village, the villagers not trusting the new arrivals, their coach driver who’s a monster and the haunted castle which looks like “Hell on toast” whilst children’s choirs haunt the soundscape. He may well have been talking about The Woman In Black, except that Daniel Radcliffe isn’t much like James Mason.

The relaunch of Hammer Studios in 2008 was welcomed with delight by horror fanboys. Hammer is synonymous with cheesy-yet-creepy British-grown horror. The Woman In Black is the most Hammer-esque of their new productions. Centering on young widower lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), The Woman In Black is unashamedly old-fashioned in its setting and its storytelling. Kipps arrives in a remote village in Northern England to sort the affairs of a recently desceased client, Mrs. Drablow. Thus, the tortured outsider Kipps arrives to a distrusting village and Eel Marsh House, not so much “Hell on toast” as “Limbo in Broth”, set as it is on an islet frequently cut off from the mainland by the rising tide.The village is beset by the frequent and apparent accidental deaths of young children, and it’s not long before Kipps discovers the children’s deaths may have something to do with another former resident of the house, the ‘woman in black’. Susan Hill’s source novel was a throwback to older Victorian horror, and The Woman In Black is as much of a blast from the past. It’ll be a shock to many audiences that there’s so little bloodshed onscreen. Without guts and bloody torrents to distract from the scares, Radcliffe investigates the house with the kind of curious abandon reserved for idiots who are asking for whatever befalls them. He steps out of Hogwarts’ shadow with a convincing performance as Kipps, a steady guide through the grim secrets of Eel Marsh House. He’s backed up by a good supporting cast, including Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer as a wealthy couple who also fell victim to the village epidemic of child deaths.

The lack of bloodshed is a gutsy (pardon the pun) move on the part of director James Watkins (Eden Lake). He may alienate audiences more attuned to full-on gore, but will delight the crowds who screamed at the Hammer Horrors of old. The Woman In Black has a healthy number of jump scares, whilst building a thick fog-covered atmosphere in between. Jane Goldman’s script keeps the eerie plot of Hill’s tome in place, though the changed ending may bend some fan noses out of joint. It may be clichéd and it may be predictible, but The Woman Is Black is scary and it is Hammer, and horror fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

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