The Woman in Black | Movies | Palo Alto Online |

Movie Review

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black
Daniel Radcliffe in "The Woman in Black"

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Rated PG-13 for violence/disturbing images. 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Publication date: Feb. 3, 2012
Review by Tyler Hanley
Released: (2012)

This chilling adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 novel offers British actor Daniel Radcliffe a chance to shed his "Harry Potter" persona. Radcliffe plays it somber and stoic in "The Woman in Black," his understated performance complementing the film's spooky atmosphere.

"Spooky" may be too gentle a word. The movie bombards viewers with a host of scare tactics, from barely startling to borderline terrifying. And therein lies the problem. The paranormal period piece ("Black" is set in 19th-century England) relies so heavily on frightening imagery that backstory and character development get buried.

Widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) struggles with the grief brought on by his wife's untimely passing and the strain of raising their young son alone (nanny notwithstanding). Arthur's employer dispatches him to a quiet village to sift through paperwork at an unkempt estate. Something is amiss in the peculiar town, as the villagers react to Arthur's arrival with less warmth than a bucket of ice water. His only real friend comes in the form of wealthy resident Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds).

Arthur gets to work at the enormous mansion, where shadows seem to shift and eerie sounds echo throughout the night. He begins to catch glimpses of a woman in black, and unearths a mystery that involves the mansion's former mainstays and the village's bizarre rash of child deaths. Let's just say the pale-faced woman in black doesn't take too kindly to strangers.

The scenes of Arthur alone in the dark mansion (aside from a small dog Sam lends him for company) at times literally made this reviewer's spine tingle. Director James Watkins sets the mood remarkably well -- this is a ghost story through and through. Although costuming and set design are excellent, some set pieces take the fear factor too far. (Hard to imagine that anyone, save for the film's producers, would purposely select the cornucopia of scary dolls that litter an upstairs bedroom.)

The malevolent title character is intimidating but one-dimensional and, frankly, something of a hypocrite. Her scary schtick is effective but eventually grows tiresome, and the film's unsatisfying climax doesn't help matters. Too much of what occurs in the film has been done before. Wailing ghost woman with sinister intentions? Seen it. Creaky doors that slowly open on their own? Been there. Adolescent phantasms strolling around in the dark? Please.

Ultimately the film can't distinguish itself from other ghosts-gone-wild tales like "The Ring" (2002) and "The Grudge" (2004), though die-hard horror fans might not mind the similarities.

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