I was more than pleasantly surprised by this adaptation of Susan Hill's iconic ghost story.
I wasn't expecting much to be honest. I feel that the haunted house genre has, for lack of a better phrase, died a horrible death in the movie industry. Too much focus is placed on special effects, twist endings or convoluted "is it all in their minds?" storylines (see Shutter Island, The Haunting remake and The Others).
Also, having read the book and seen the stage play, I was concerned that the film wouldn't do the source material justice. And, as much as I am a big fan of Daniel Radcliffe, I worried that he wouldn't be able to be the strong anchor the story needs, as his acting ability has been somewhat questionable in the past (especially when it comes to grief and sadness).
But all these fears were unwarranted. The Woman In Black is a well told, well shot and well balanced film.
Firstly, Radcliffe. He not only looks amazing (it had to be said) but he delivers a gently nuanced performance. The opening introduction to his Arthur Kipps, where he mourns his dead wife, is subtle and heartfelt, his grief showing in waves, as well as his love for his son. But where Radcliffe really comes into his own is when he reaches Eel Marsh House and starts experiencing the unusual. There is little dialogue but his face conveys a wide range of emotions - determination, curiosity, fear, horror. Most of it is in his incredible eyes, and the director makes the most of this by using lingering close ups on his face, thereby capturing this performance. His age is not a problem as many feared it would be. He is believably 25-ish and easily passes as a young widower and father.
The supporting cast is also strong. Ciaran Hinds offers great ballast to Radcliffe’s gentle performance, and the various villagers (including a fine Simon Dooley), are believable as scared superstitious locals.
The film is beautiful to behold. Eel Marsh House is deliciously creepy and handsome, covered in vines and wreathed in mist. The expansive shots of the marsh as Kipps travels across it, and especially as it covers over with the tide, are heaped in isolation and bleakness. The moments when Kipps ventures into the mist and is surrounded by it are claustrophobic and chilling.
The scenes of the actual haunting are mostly well done and although they do rely heavily on jump moments, they successfully ramp up the tension via prolonged shots and silence to have you nervous and frightened. The use of edge of frames and background scenes to deliver scares really work, especially with the deep shadows and muted colours used throughout.
As the action increases towards the end, a little CGI does come into play and ever-so-slightly spoils the film, but thankfully it is quite brief and not too disparate with the tone of the film. At the very least, they still made me jump and cower on my partner’s shoulder!
To conclude, an enjoyable and successfully creepy ghost story in the traditional sense, proving that Daniel Radcliffe certainly has a lot more to offer than just Harry Potter. And a vast improvement on Eden Lake for the director James Watkins. Hopefully we’ll see more well-made horror from him in the future.