The Woman in Black

Director: James Watkins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, and Ciaràn Hinds
Released: Feb 10, 2012

Horror has to be the most misunderstood genre in all of Hollywood.

On any given weekend, in any given cinema, the film listings will nearly always contain two or three chick flicks, at least one action/thriller movie, two or more comedies and a handful of family films. But horror? Horror is dying out on the big screen, with the most notable films heading straight to DVD. Horrors that do manage to make it to the big screen tend to be of the bog standard slasher variety, full of scantily clad girls and OTT blood baths. The Woman in Black is one of the rare few that puts its emphasis on atmosphere and performance, rather than gore.

The plot:
Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a young widower working at a law firm in London. Still grieving over his wife’s death, he is struggling to balance his responsibilities as a father and as an aspiring lawyer. Sent to the secluded village of Crythin Gifford, he is requested to sort through the affairs of the late Alice Drablow. While working through the papers in the now abandoned manor, he begins to have visions of an unsettling woman in black……………………………..(boo)

Based on the widely successful novel of the same name, The Woman in Black is the second film to be released by Hammer Studios, the horror behemoth from the 60s that has only recently been revived. The first, a gory remake of Let the Right One In, was well received, despite following so closely on the heels of the Swedish masterpiece. With The Woman in Black, Hammer returns to its roots, showing audiences that they can still conjure up a genuinely creepy atmosphere that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The build-up is gradual. Many of the usual horror movie tropes are present. An unpleasant death to kick things off, plenty of moody lighting, rainfall, and lingering shadows. When Kipps arrives in the village, the villagers regard him with suspicious stares and cryptic warnings of dangers that lie ahead. This reception is practically identical to that given to Jonathan Harker in the story of Dracula, a fitting homage to a story that Hammer Studios developed into a successful franchise.

Once Kipps steps over the threshold of the Drablow house however, supernatural forces begin working to curdle the very blood in his veins. And it is in this area that Hammer is most successful, because The Woman in Black is a genuinely frightening film. While the haunted house narrative is overly familiar (and devoid of any notable originality here), the chills, frights and shocks are all executed perfectly. An intense second act will blanket audience members in hair-raising goosebumps, if not eliciting actual screams. It is an achievement that deserves recognition that you will almost certainly feel sympathy for this character who, before the film, you always knew simply as Harry Potter.

Radcliffe does a truly admirable job in his role as Kipps. His relentless efforts to prove himself as a ‘proper’ actor are very apparent here, clarifying for cynics everywhere that he is not just a one trick pony. It is difficult to get past the fact that he is supposed to be the father of a four-year old boy. However, he displays an impressive range of emotions, showing  many levels of apprehension and fear. He manages to express more with his eyes than a dumb blonde in a tight top ever could with her lungs. It is a testament to his skill as an actor that he creates a character that we feel genuine sympathy and concern for. Many filmmakers will tackle this issue by simply casting a female in the leading role, as they almost instantly convey a stronger sense of vulnerability.

Ciaràn Hinds also deserves a mention for handing in an impressive performance. He plays the character Daily, who acts as a crutch for Kipps’ sanity, being one of the few villagers who hasn’t had his mind crippled with overwhelming superstitions. Like Kipps, he is a man who has suffered a loss in his life. The focus is never on him for very long, but he bears a constantly pained expression that is as impressive as it is subtle.

Despite all of this praise, The Woman in Black is far from perfect. Unlike most haunted house stories, there is very little mystery surrounding the apparition of the woman in black. Her every manifestation is terrifying, but she appears far too often for anyone to question her being. This also results in a less than satisfying conclusion, that feels rushed and poorly planned. It aches for a layer of complexity, whose absence is only partially excused by the film’s effective atmosphere and vigorous scares.

Hammer Studios boasts an impressive portfolio of feature films that focus primarily on cheap thrills rather than story. The Woman in Black falls into that category, albeit a modern interpretation of these types of films. There are exquisite performances to be found here, and some powerfully frightening scenes. It’s just a shame that the story is so unsatisfactory when it is clear that such careful consideration went into all other aspects of the film.

 Rating: 6/10

I believe the most rational mind can play tricks in the dark.” – Daily

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • A TV film version of The Woman in Black was released in 1989. Adrian Rawlins, who plays Harry Potter’s father, James Potter, played Arthur Kipps in this version.
  • Daniel Radcliffe’s real life girlfriend, Rosie Coker, appears as the Woman in Black in one scene. Apparently Daniel is into that kind of thing.
  • And finally, this is awesome:

This film is kind of like:

  • Hearing footsteps upstairs when you know there’s no one else in the house.


  • Going upstairs and finding out it was just your Aunt Margaret looking for her frying pan

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I had to say, I thought it was pretty scary. And that’s saying something, considering how many horror movies I’ve watched.
    But then, different people find different things unsettling. I personally find all women scary

  2. My mom and I saw the film a while ago. It wasn’t really that scary, but it was enjoyable.

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