A down-on-his-luck London lawyer is sent to a remote village to wrap up a widow's estate. What he discovers is a town grappling with dark and supernatural secrets. A credible suspense story with a surprisingly bold ending, The Woman In Black is a solid step away from Harry Potter for star Daniel Radcliffe—while it, too, is British and fantastical, the tone is sinister, adult and bleak. While it won't likely do franchise numbers, Woman should play well enough to the grab-your-seatmate date-night crowds.
As soon as he arrives, everyone in the town seems to want Radcliffe's character on the next train out as soon as possible. With so many warning signs that something strange is up—not to mention that every villager glares at him like the devil—we wish he'd simply ask someone, "Um, so, what's going on here?" Turns out the widow's mysterious and marshy manor where he does his work, which is cinematically cut off from the town every few hours by tides that leave him stranded, harbors a curse over the children of the village, with his soon-to-arrive son possibly the next in peril. Nearly everyone in town has lost a child, starting with the ghostly vision of a veiled woman who lost her own son and now brings doom for other parents as revenge.
Whether or not the world is ready to accept the idea of 22-year-old Radcliffe as a widower, father and lawyer scrambling to hold onto a flailing career, here he is, in post-Victoriana high collars and long coat, with sideburns and even hints of stubble. The story often places him alone in an abandoned grand mansion filled with taxidermy and antique wind-up toys, inviting the viewer to do nothing but look at him while they wait for the next scare—plenty of time to think over his now-iconic role and the fact he has grown up quite literally onscreen.
Being released under the relaunched Hammer Films banner—the UK company who resurrected Dracula and Frankenstein movies in the '50s—The Woman In Black certainly has the spooky moors and creepy townspeople vibe that make the platonic ideal of Hammer-style British horror. Director James Watkins heats the film more to slow-burning suspense than big scares, though there's plenty of jumps and stings, as well as much opening of doors, climbing of stairs and peering around corners, to a point of diminishing returns after, say, the third time Radcliffe creeps cautiously down the same hallway. But in its final moments, the film then takes a surprising shift to end on an emotional—not action-filled—punch, leaving audiences perhaps more stunned than startled.
Distributor: CBS Films
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White
Director: James Watkins
Screenwriter: Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill
Producers: Richard Jackson, Simon Oakes, Brian Oliver
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release date: Feb 3, 2012