The revived Hammer Studios has been responsible for some quality films of late. The Hilary Swank/Jeffrey Dean Morgan flick, The Resident, was a well-made thriller (that no one else I know saw), and whilst I hate to admit it, Let Me In was a decent film even if it was a stupid enterprise to begin with. Now we have a remake of The Woman in Black, which is just as chilling as its predecessor. I saw the 1989 TV movie when I was a kid, and it scared the bejesus out of me. The 2012 version featuring a post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe manages to succeed at being just as frightening also.
Set in the early 20th Century, the plot concerns a young widower and lawyer who is tasked with going through the mountains of legal documents left in the remote Eel Marsh House since the owner of the estate passed away. Upon arrival he finds the local villagers less than hospitable, and eager for him to be on his way. Nevertheless, he gets on with the job, not realising that his very presence will put everyone in danger from the ghostly figure of the titular black clothed woman.
This is an old-fashioned ghost story of the highest order. For all those horror buffs who got so incredibly sick and tired of the torture porn of the last decade or so, it seems that there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. The Paranormal Activity films, Insidious and now The Woman in Black all show us that the old fashioned scares are the best.
As you would hope, the production design and costuming are top notch. The interiors look fantastic, with all manner of eerie paintings, scary wind-up toys and dark shadows to inspire fear. The house itself is on an island near the coast, the only access being from a causeway that is only accessible when the tide is out. There’s a lot of conveniently placed mist and spooky sounds that echo over the water.
Daniel Radcliffe is a solid performer. He’s miscast only in the sense that he looks too young for the part of Arthur Kipps. At the age of 22, he is technically just barely old enough for the part, but the problem is his boyish appearance. He could easily get away with still playing a high schooler. That being said, he is quite excellent at looking scared – and this takes up the majority of the film. In fact, at one point it seemed we were subjected to almost half an hour of Arthur walking around the house looking terrified. And you know what? It works. Amazingly, director James Watkins et al manage to sustain the tension for extraordinarily extended periods of time.
The film gets even better when Radcliffe is sharing the screen with Ciarán Hinds, who plays Daily, a man of wealth who lives in a manor away from the village and is much more sceptical when it comes to the spiritual world. The two work wonderfully together and, in an interesting twist, Hinds is pretty much the opposite of his character from The Eclipse, in which he played a man trying to make contact with his dead wife.
This review probably won’t be published in time to get Aussies to catch The Woman in Black at the cinema – it’s already fading from our screens – but I recommend you catch it on DVD, because it really is wonderfully scary. The dénouement is less than perfect, but the journey there is exquisitely crafted.Rating: