“The Woman in Black,” a shadowy supernatural tale of a ghost who haunts and terrorizes a small English town, doesn’t scream Oscar material, but does make for some face-hiding, seat-squirming fun.
Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II”) plays the more mature role of Arthur Kipps, a lawyer and a widower. Kipps travels to the town of Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of the deceased Mrs. Alice Drablow as an effort to prove his commitment to his job. Leaving his son behind, he embarks on the trip of a lifetime.
The town of Crythin Gifford truly sets the tone for the thriller’s screenplay. Kipps finds himself in a whirlwind of mystery and eeriness. The town exemplifies the feeling of uneasiness: The children of the town, locked up inside their homes, stare at Kipps through windows as he passes by; many of the adults treat him as an alien and push him to leave immediately, knowing he has business at Drablow’s residence.
Anyone else would have done what the townspeople asked, but not Kipps, who’s determined to perform his duties to keep his job and provide for his family. However, Kipps doesn’t realize what all the fuss is about, until he reaches Mrs. Drablow’s estate, Eel Marsh House.
Located atop a hill thick with trees and brush, Mrs. Drablow’s old, vine-covered mansion fits in perfectly with the strange and spine-chilling townspeople. The home is also an ideal spot for all the supernatural action that occurs later on.
The mansion is a product of incredible set design – decked with mirrors, long darkened hallways and more china dolls than anyone could handle. The gothic interior and spooky graveyard that produces the first sighting of the woman in black add to the already disturbing manor.
As Kipps spends hours each day going through Mrs. Drablow’s paperwork, he begins to hear footsteps and other strange noises, such as some fear-inducing thumping coming from the upstairs nursery. He sees objects moving by themselves, and the shadowy figure of the woman dressed in black, who pops in and out of the frame at just the right moments to produce faint screeches and screams in the audience.
As he continues to go through more and more paperwork, he starts to uncover the woman’s past and how she connects to the townspeople. What he discovers in a series of threatening and disconcerting letters causes great discomfort and gives background information explaining the ghost’s unfinished business.
Although much of the movie consists of Kipps sitting around in the estate, the moments of silence and wonderfully-shot screenplay generate a handful of suspenseful scenes.
The director James Watkins (“The Descent 2″) presents images of death and violence that are sure to make an impression. Many of these sequences include mind-controlled children committing suicide under the powers of the woman in black. A warning: Many of the scenes are pretty intense and cringe-inducing.
However, because the woman only targets children, Radcliffe’s character never truly enters any real danger when exploring the mansion or coming in contact with the ghost. This makes the bone-chilling scenes less frightening as the film progresses.
While the down-right creepy English town and townspeople give the film the perfect sense of mystery, the plot lacks a little bit of interest. A ghost stalking whoever dares enter a certain house in order to get out a message seems to be a pretty tired plot.
Radcliffe’s character also lacks something. His character suffers from the loss of his wife but doesn’t quite show a profound sense of grief. His character also has very little dialogue but spends most of his time tip-toeing around with a weapon and candle in hand.
However, Radcliffe mostly manages to separate himself from his role as Harry Potter. His curiosity, adventuresome fervor and braveness, however, are qualities shared between the two roles.
“The Woman in Black” gets an “A” for effort providing quality spooks, suspense and an impeccable set but lacks some real depth and development in its characters and overall scheme.
4 stars out of 5