On February 3 CBS Films releases Hammer’s The Woman in Black, an old fashioned ghost story starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter 1-7.2) and Ciaran Hinds (There Will Be Blood).
With a screenplay by Jane Goldman (X Men: First Class, Kick Ass), based on the novel by Susan Hill, the film is directed by James Watkins who helmed Eden Lake in addition to writing The Descent: Part 2. I recently had a chance to speak with Watkins about the film, which is a real departure for him in terms of tone and achieving what he calls “a pervasive sense of dread“.
“In this supernatural thriller, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a widowed lawyer whose grief has put his career as a lawyer in jeopardy, is sent to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric. But upon his arrival, it soon becomes clear that everyone in the town is keeping a deadly secret. Although the townspeople try to keep Kipps from learning their tragic history, he soon discovers that the house belonging to his client is haunted by the ghost of a woman who is determined to find someone and something she lost…and no one, not even the children, are safe from her vengeance.”
Hit the jump to check out the interview! Had you read the book before you were approached for the project? “I hadn’t. I’d read a couple of other Susan Hill novels but I hadn’t read that one. I was aware that the script was in process and I kind of tracked it. I was curious. I’m a fan of Jane Goldman’s writing and I was wondering what had happened to the script and then they sent it to me.”
Jane Goldman (X Men: First Class, Kick Ass) has some great credits under her belt. When you received that first draft was it exactly what you wanted or did you work with her on shaping it to your vision a little more? “We definitely worked on it. The script she wrote was fantastic. It was scary but I responded to the fact that there was quite a bit more to it. It had an emotional core, it tapped into some real primal fears. Fears of loss, fear of separation, fear of drowning, parents and their children. Some really deep fears, which the best horror films tap into. Once I got involved we worked to keep tightening it. I wanted it to be really spare. To cut back on dialogue and back story and really find the story in the present. That was the biggest change that we made. It was a real pleasure working with Jane. All through pre-production and then she was around for the shoot and involved deeply in the edit as well. It was a real collaboration.”
In terms of horror, you worked on The Descent: Part 2 and directed Eden Lake. How is this project a step forward for you? “I guess what appealed to me is that it’s not a straight horror film. It’s a ghost story. I like the ‘less is more’ aspect about it. I like the fact that you can make a film without hammering the audience over the head with scares. The deepest scares are in your head. What you can shoot is never as scary as what you can imagine, so to go into people’s heads for a deeper chill – that was the great challenge. To get really deep chills and a really pervasive sense of dread. But to do it through suggestion. ‘Eden Lake’ was a very visceral film and this is a different beast.”
This is a Hammer film as well. Did any of those old aesthetics kind of make their way into this one? “It’s interesting. I’m not sure they did consciously. But I’m familiar with all those old films and I think unconsciously those things seep in. If you look at the earlier Hammer films, the rich deep reds and the use of coloration, I didn’t want to make a boring looking kind of off-gray desaturated monochromatic film. I wanted to make a richly saturated negative. I guess in those sort of ways, in terms of the rich look, yes. But I don’t think I was ever really channelling Hammer.”
Was Daniel Radcliffe attached to the project when you came on or were you a part of his casting process? “No he wasn’t. I was definitely a part of that. I met with him and checked it through, I wanted to see if we both saw the film the same way and saw the character in the same way. It was a real challenge, people have this very iconic notion of Dan. I wanted them to revisit him as an actor playing a new character, revisit him anew. Take off the glasses. It was a really interesting challenge and opportunity. I’m really proud of his performance. ”
Not having seen it, is this an ensemble piece? “ Well we have Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer who is a wonderful British actress and Roger Allam who is great as well. We’ve got some great British and Irish actors in the film, but Dan carries the film. That’s his responsibility and he achieves it.”
The Woman In Black is in theaters February 3rd.