Most of us have grown up with Daniel Radcliffe. He’s played Harry Potter in eight films spanning 10 years which would seem one sure way to be typecast. I thought I’d only seen him in those films but a look back shows that I also saw him in 2001’s excellent film, The Tailor of Panama. The start of the weekend found me catching him in his first film beyond the mega-series, The Woman in Black.
This is a standard period horror piece involving lots of dark seance-like atmosphere and a long history of local tragedy. Radcliffe plays a young lawyer, Arthur Kipps, who recently lost his wife (and mother of their young son) in childbirth and, as a result (we assume—as the story doesn’t specifically tie these two things together) is experiencing a loss of focus at work. His boss sends him off to the estate of a recently deceased woman to gather up a reported plethora of paperwork in the desire to make sure they have the absolute latest copy of her will. The main problem is that the deceased’s own local attorney hasn’t come through with the goods.
From the moment Kipps arrives in town nearly everyone gives him a clear cold shoulder. No one wants him there and everyone seems willingly ensconced behind walls of stone and thick windows. The few exceptions include an inn keeper and an older wealthy couple with their own tale of woe.
The entire film oozes with dread and ghostly aura. The house of the deceased is the perfect haunted house and Radcliffe’s look and mannerisms quickly leave behind his most famous past role. The cinematography is also wonderful. Nearly every shot squeezes out the maximum emotion and the locations are simply wonderful.
Much of the film is quite interesting and keeps your attention but, over time, frustration starts to seep in threatening the entire experience. The most annoying aspect is that Kipps seems dead-set against asking anyone in town to explain anything he’s seeing. Why are they acting the way they are? Why are they treating him so poorly? What’s with all the dead children and who is the woman in black?
When the ending comes it happens all too quickly and loose ends are simply tossed together in one big bucket and treated as resolved.
I should also point out that the audience I found myself in was rather ….. unique. No matter how minimal the “scare” a few sections of the audience would shriek as if ghouls were descending on their own theater seats. A few times they screamed in confusion over things not even intended to be scary. I started wondering if the producers had somehow managed to hire teens to sit in on every single showing all over the country. Sadly, it didn’t do anything to help the outcome. It’s a nice effort with some notable highs but, in the end, doesn’t deliver.