The Woman in Black is a tale exploring the most classic of dark themes; loss, vengeance and mourning. Written by Susan Hill in 1983. It was adapted into to a hugely successful play in 1987 and has been playing in the West End since 1989 – making it the second longest running West End play, as you ask - Mousetrap. I have not seen the play but know from friends that it lives up to its reputation as one of the scariest live performances you can experience. A TV film followed in 1989 and work on adapting The Woman in Black for screen began as far back as 1997. But converting the chilling tale to screen in a satisfactory way has proved to be a mammoth task
Work on it was re invigorated when Hammer became involved with its desire for intelligent horror films and wished to explore the less trodden path a return to films that shifted focus from increasing body counts back to narrative - having seen the film I’m not entirely sure if they achieved this as the bodies do pile up ;). To this end they brought screen writer Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, The Debt) and then Director James Watkins on-board. Both of them inspired choices - with Jane Goldman’s long list of fantasy hits & background in the paranormal and James Watkins’ resume reads like a specialist in critically acclaimed schlock! horror (My Little Eye, Gone, The Descent: Part 2, Eden Lake). I felt violated for days after watching the terrifying Eden Lake with Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender. Combined Goldman and Watkins must surely be a horror dream team and perfect for The Woman in Black.
As The Woman in Black starts I am immediately struck by the Hammer title sequence, much like DC and Marvel Studios sting it draws on the studios long history of Hammer horror film greats and with a whizz bang brings Hammer into the 2000s.
We are immediately swept away to the Edwardian London and introduced to Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) a sullen young solicitor beset by tragedy. Under financial strain he is forced to embark on a journey that takes him away from his family, not only to finalise the sale of Eel Marsh House in a remote town, but to the dark side.
Although the storyline is fairly basic and The Woman in Black is essentially hinged around a haunted house, much of its magic is in the surprises and turn that it takes as the mystery and the secrets of The Woman in Black are unveiled. Going in I had no clue as what to expect as people had respectfully not given much away and intend to do the same.
James Watkins creates a dark, gothic atmosphere and tone that is maintained throughout, from its foggy London start to the desolate and chilly village where Watkins employs every visual and audio device in the paranormal quiver to chilling effect. Don’t let the 12A certification fool you - The Woman in Black IS AS CREEPY AS HELL! I’m not easily moved in the horror stakes but in between effectively timed shock jerks, my skin was actually tingling from being creeped out with the dread he creates. Something that has only ever happened with the likes of hardcore Japanese horror like Ringu (Ring), Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water) or Neil Marshall’s The Descent and this has James Watkins' wicked finger prints all over it.
The set up itself is very much in the vein of the classic Hammer films, particularly the dénouement where the relationship between Daniel Radcliff’s character and Ciarán Hinds’ older Mr Daily a local land baron comes to the fore. Pure Hammer.
Full credit To Daniel Radcliff, he certainly can act and carries the bulk of the film, putting Harry Potter out in the cold early on when establishing his Kipps character - without making it feel forced. I am slowly drifting over to being a huge Ciarán Hinds fan, as he brings a lot of gravitas and meaning to each of his roles.
I was particularly taken by a scene where Arthur Kipps, recovering from a recent tragedy is having a fire side chat with Daily. The subject of the after life is touched on. Each of them embodying their characters life experience and position on the subject magnificently. These quiet moments of reason making the tension fraught scenes all the more effective.
In the interest of balance a weakness of The Woman in Black is that although the relationship dynamics are great and the scary elements of the films are brilliantly spooky the characters reacting to their environment doesn’t seem to be given adequate attention and this took me out of the film a couple of times as I found myself wondering how I would be reacting in a similar situation - despite looking very grey and cold it didn’t seem as if anyone in the village were affected by the freezing temperatures but then again I’m just nitpicking.
With The Woman in Black Hammer have created an intelligent horror film for modern audiences that draws on the most classic of all ghost tales - that may well come to define terror for this generation.
The Woman In Black release date: The Woman In Black is in cinemas from today 10 February, 2012
The Woman in Black
A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.
Director: James Watkins
Writers: Susan Hill, Jane Goldman
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciarán Hinds