This chilling, old-school ‘haunting’ film marks two significant events. 1) The reemergence of classic, ‘Gothic horror’ film studio Hammer Films and 2) Daniel Radcliffe successfully shaking off any residual ‘Harry Potter’. In this outing, he plays Arthur Kipps, a young, cadaverous-looking widower/father; tasked by his law firm to close out legal dealings on an old, remote property somewhere in the British Isles. Kipps can’t help but to notice the instant, mysterious ‘cold shoulder’ from the ‘locals’ on his arrival in the small, rustic town. As he sets about the task of ‘sorting the papers’, small unnerving things begin to occur on the property and the large, mouldering mansion. The large, mouldering mansion…whose only road is inconveniently washed out by the incoming tide for large chunks of the day, rendering the freaky place cut off from civilization. Thick tension and spine-tingling fear ensue. This movie knows exactly what it is, being a throw-back to the haunted house films of the 50s and 60s, and therein lies it’s strength. Taking the inspired, ‘practical’ approach to the ‘haunting’ effects, backed with a modern, but ‘knowing’ cinematic sensibility, has resulted in a surprisingly effective, genuinely scary thriller. It had my skin wanting to crawl off my body…at times nearly succeeding. The second act is relentless in its attempts to scare the shit out of the audience and what’s notable is the lack of cheap ‘jump scares’ (of course, there’s still a couple) in favor of the potently nasty ‘what’s-that-thing-behind -himOHSHIT!-It-moved!’ types. And toys! If creepy dolls and automatons send you reeling, think twice about this one. They’re integral to the overall cold, grey and sinister atmosphere that permeates this ‘dark’ flick. Supporting Radcliffe are a number of familiar British faces, with the strangely charismatic Ciaran Hinds (Munich) standing out as Kipps’ only real support in his ardurous task and terrifying tribulations. And for once, the friendly new confidante to the besieged protagonist DOESN’T turn out to be intimately involved in the genesis or execution of the TERROR. If that’s somehow a major spoiler…tough shit. All the above points, mixed with a deliberate, steady pace and pitch-perfect music score, lead up to a familiar but satisfyingly fitting ending. If I HAD to dig up a complaint, it would be that Radcliffe seems a little young for a man who’s gone through so much misfortune so early in life. But then I remember that in the era that this is set (1910-1920ish), people tended to ‘start’ earlier…and his performance was nuanced enough to knock my trivial bitching aside. Getting down to brass tacks, if you want an old-fashioned but eerie-as-hell haunting flick with a great ‘period’ production design and admirable performances, The Woman in Black will show you a freaky thing or two.
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