Reviewed by Mike Ferraro
Hammer Horror is a British production company that was birthed in the 50s but died in the 70s. Some of the films they’ve produced were interesting and often more macabre takes on the Universal Monster pictures of the 30s – like The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula AD 1972, and Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby perhaps being the most critically acclaimed entry. These highly influential films were certainly popular in their day, but Hammer’s popularity waned into the 1980s, where they all but disappeared.
They resurrected themselves in the late 2000s, with films like Wake Wood and The Resident, two films that were as forgettable as their titles. Aside from Let Me In (the US remake of Let the Right One In), the company has shied away from even dipping in conventional horror. The Woman In Blackis their newest production and one that brings us back to the days of William Castle. This is a classically setup haunted house picture that works in just about as many ways as it doesn’t.
Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) plays Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer who firm is about ready to let him go, as he can’t seem to move passed his grief from losing his wife. They send him away to a quant little village where a woman has died, and it is up to him to make sure her affairs and paperwork are in order so they can do sell the old house she lived in. The townspeople offer him no assistance other than trying to get him to leave the town just as he has arrived. Determined to not lose his job, he gets a ride to the house and begins his investigation.
Just as he does, he begins to piece this woman’s life together. He discovers that she had a son who died tragically at a young age. Around this time, the house starts creaking and making other subtle (and some not-so-subtle) noises. Kipps then claims to have seen a “woman in black” around the residence, which makes the townspeople more freaked out, as with her sightings, children seem to die in horrible accidents.
This isn’t a film for those looking for a constant barrage of cheap scares. Woman in Black actually succeeds in creating a slow build-up of conventional thrills. If this film came out decades ago, it probably would have attracted more attention to itself. Director James Watkins (2008’s Eden Lake) seems to shy away from the use of too much computer-generated imagery, and instead relies on making the events happen as they would. The only noticeable element of CG found here is the creation of fog that England seems to have been enveloped in during this time, which is so bad at times, that it pulls you out of the picture.
Radcliffe shows that he will have no problem containing a post-Potter career. Despite the fact that still looks rather young (as he actually is), he plays grieving widow/young father rather well, and with a restrained type of emotion that never attempts to dramatize the situation. In a film filled with experienced actors (Ciaran Hinds, Roger Allam, and Janet McTeer), the guy definitely proves that he can stand on his own.
Aside from the poorly induced CG scenery, the only real thing left to criticize is the third act. Without spoiling it, there is a key scene added right before the end that completely gives away what will end up happening before we even get there. You have to wonder why such a scene was included in the first place. If you are only showing us the ghost when Kipps experiences her, why change that in the last 4 minutes?
There is part of a really good film here, filled with lots of tensely slow build-up, beautiful camera work (photographed by Tim Maurice-Jones), and an eerie score by Marco Beltrami. Having never read the novel by Susan Hill, it’s hard to say how far screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class) steered from the original plot, or if the book crumbles in the third-act as well.
The DVD contains commentary with Watkins and Goldman, discussing the various techniques used for creating the environment and how well they feel the performances drove the picture. Also included are two short (and almost pointless) promotional featurettes about the making of the film that do not really provide any real insight about the filmmaking itself.