The Woman in Black
Distributed by CBS Films
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I first heard the soundtrack of The Woman in Black, I was intrigued. Upon researching the film and learning that it was based on a novel by Susan Hill and produced by Hammer Film Productions, I knew that I wanted to see this horror film. I missed it in the theaters, but recently had the opportunity to rent it. Turning off all of the lights and hoping that the telephone wouldn’t ring to disturb my viewing, I settled down with a large bowl of popcorn and prepared to be scared motionless by The Woman in Black.
The film is set in the early 1900s and stars Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer whose life and career has been drastically affected by the death of his wife (Janey McTeer) during childbirth. Despite the fact that he loves his now four-year-old son (Misha Handley), Arthur has found it extremely difficult to come to grips with losing the love of his life while creating the son he always wanted. His depression has often got the better of him and he has contemplated suicide on more than one occasion. The lawfirm he works for have begun to lose faith in Arthur’s abilities. They decide to give him one more chance to prove his worth to the firm and thus keep himself employed.
And so Arthur finds himself traveling to a remote village to settle the estate of Alice Drablow, the deceased eccentric owner of Eel Marsh House. Upon arrival to the village, Arthur discovers that, except for the friendly and wealthy landowner Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds), the locals want nothing to do with him. In fact, they want him gone – the quicker the better. Unfortunately, finding the local solicitor’s behavior regarding Eel Marsh House to be rather curious, Arthur decides to travel to the house and check into things himself.
You see, had Arthur been paying attention, he would know just why the villagers are so ill at ease with anyone venturing out to Eel Marsh House and discovering the tragic events that befell its occupants. Had anyone warned him about the true nature of what lay in wait for him at the house, he may perhaps have been persuaded to stay away. But now he has unwittingly unleashed the evil of the house on the children of the village and his own son, travelling to the village by train to be reunited with his father.
I’m not certain just how many of our readers are acquainted with the types of films produced by Hammer Films. You may remember the old Hammer classic horror movies that I watched as a child, films like The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and their numerous sequels from the 50s, 60s and early 70s. These movies were horror at its best, featuring monsters that were scary, sets that were dark and spooky and situations that would make your skin crawl, yet not disgust you with tons of blood-letting. Classic horror…gothic horror…that is what sets Hammer Films apart from other horror films of this age.
The Woman in Black is the perfect Hammer-style film featuring a dark sets, an admirable and handsome main character suffering from unspeakable misery, a scary looking house with an equally mysterious and spooky back story set in a remote location, a spooky soundtrack designed to aid in raising goosepimples on your flesh and moments of horror that aren’t incredibly bloody or grotesque. This is old style horror – the kind that involves your imagination and overloads the senses without grossing you out.
Daniel Radcliffe has come a long way from the adorable child turned brooding hero in the Harry Potter movies. He is an increasingly handsome young man whose acting prowess endears us to his character, making the viewer sympathetic to Arthur Kipps’ plight and his fate. He fairly carries the film on his own shoulders most of the time and is quite equal to the task.
The storyline of the film, while it may have been done before, is still captivating and the audience will enjoy unraveling the mystery of Eel Marsh House and the behavior of the local townspeople towards Arthur. Once we uncover what tragedies have befallen the members of the Eel Marsh household and the local townsfolk, we begin to understand why it is that the locals want Arthur to leave well enough alone.
The movie has an ending that will come as quite a surprise to the viewers. There may be some that scoff at the ending, but I really enjoyed it, finding it appropriate and something that I can actually get behind. To me it is a happy ending, but others may not think so. To say more would be to give the ending away and I don’t want to do that. Fans of the new, gorier side of horror might find this movie wanting, but I think that The Woman in Black is one of those movies that any fan of classic horror would find incredibly enjoyable.