THE WOMAN IN BLACK Review

Patience. Patience is a virtue and we must not only possess this characteristic to watch Danny Radcliffe's new ghost story "The Woman in Black" but we must have it in order to relate to his character Arthur Kipps. There is a point in a ghost story where you just get the hell out of there and never look back. No doubt this doesn't usually bode well for characters in a movie but at least we can respect them enough because they have the sense to flee when they have the chance. Mr. Kipps is not looking for a way out. He embraces his involvement with the supernatural and to a point we can understand why, but in the end things are just a little too grim, a little too bleak that he could actually conceive to find any real hope in his situation. This train of thought doesn't exactly go along with the conclusion of the film which was actually a nice break from modern horror flicks, but as depressingly sad as it was there was a hint of peace in it. That it is actually what our protagonist wanted, and if that is the perspective you take on it (I surely did) it will feel all the more haunting to you. That is the accomplishment of "The Woman In Black"; it is not a gory all out screamfest. In fact, dialogue is few and far between. The movie is all about tone and telling a good ole fashioned ghost story in the most effective of ways. It may not break any new ground or offer as many scares as I originally hoped for, but it succeeds in becoming a haunting tale I wouldn't mind hearing around a campfire.

Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds) helps our protagonist go about
his business when visiting his small town.
The tale of the woman in black is one that has its origins in the early eighties. A novel is the source material for the menacing spectre that was later adapted into a stage play that still runs in London's West End and is the second-longest running play in the history of the West End. It was also adapted into a television film in 1989 but I had neither seen any of these previous incarnations nor had I read the novel. I went into the movie knowing little about the story other than what the trailer indicated and I love experiencing a scary movie that way. "The Woman In Black" begins as dark as one might expect. A chilling sequence in which the stage is set for our title villain. We meet the young lawyer Kipps as he is getting ready to travel to a remote village for work on sorting out the estate of a deceased couple. It is clear upon arriving that the locals intend to get him out of town as quick as possible, but Arthur is hard pressed to prove his worth at his job. You see, he recently lost his wife during the birth of his child and has been in a state of grieving ever since. The film shows us this without over explaining. It gives us small clues and indicators as to who these characters are by their decisions and not by having the script's dialogue tell us. Slowly the clues become more evident as to what the ghost of a woman does to the local villagers and why they fear her. Why they all believe in her. It is taken with an ease of acceptable truth. Only the town's wealthy Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds) tries to ignore the rumors of the haunting. Mr. Daily becomes a sort of companion in Arthur's struggles to get past a personal complication with the local town and just to do his job and bid him goodbye. If those that came in contact with the woman in black could escape her there would be no story though and so we know Arthur will do his best to put the towns and his own sorrows to rest.

Arthur Kipp (Daniel Radcliffe) starts to believe in what the
locals have been whispering about... 
The real point of interest in the film though is if Radcliffe is able to begin a post-Potter career that will set him apart from the character that has encompassed most of his life. Though it feels he is a little young to play the widowed father of a four year-old he takes on the responsibility of the role well and reacts to the scary moments with just the right expressions. It is hard to judge how his career will go from here not because the performance isn't any good or not convincing, no, he just isn't required to do much here. Much of the film he is lurking through the dark mansion holding a candle waiting to see what lies just around the corner. There is little action despite his characters one attempt at a rescue but even in this moment the best of the film shines through. It is a quietly creepy movie that offers plenty of chill-inducing moments. It is not the type of film we are used to seeing Radcliffe in which is to say he isn't playing a version of Harry Potter and though this may put off some of the audience who expects that, it is a good indicator that Radcliffe is trying to show range and if he continues to try he certainly will. Though Arthur Kipps is nothing if not a common man, for that reason alone he couldn't be any less similar to the boy wizard, and Radcliffe keeps in tune with the films tone and gives a quiet, haunting performance that creates a coherent film that is dressed in period costumes and sets to add prestige to its ghost story proceedings. It works. It lends to the atmosphere that is necessary for an audience to buy into the unreal things going on. Writer Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, Stardust) understands her message and world enough to make everything she puts into the script compliment these two items; these two items that allow this to stand above the standard ghost story.

Arthur Kipps attempts to set right what has caused
much heartache for the woman in black.
Parts of the film certainly drag and there could no doubt have been a bit more exposition that delve deeper into the back story of our antagonist seeing as it is her movie, but again, this is all about mystery and in many ways feels like a more grown up horror story than those the cinema usually delivers. "The Woman in Black" may not even be that great of a film, but with literally the only good "scary movie" last year being "Insidious" movie-goers are desperate for decent films that deliver the scares and "The Woman in Black" certainly delivers more than a handful of genuine moments where you look around the dark theatre to make sure no one is standing over you, watching. It is good fun and a refreshing look back at horror movies of yesteryear. I can't say that it is something everyone will love, but it has a strong story behind all of its "gotcha" moments and in that story we receive a few genuinely touching moments that build together with the reasoning for our existing ghost to create a feeling of something more bittersweet than bloody. The resolution comes at the expected time, but it turns the entire film around in what direction you expected it to go that you are taken aback and begin to reevaluate the themes that are at work here. It seems odd to call a scary movie touching, but this film is an exception to the rule on almost every level as far as horror flicks go as of late. Good for you Danny boy, you may just have a little magic left in you yet.