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The Woman in Black

A movie directed by James Watkins

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A Hotbed of Haunted Hammer Horror

  • Feb 4, 2012
Star Rating:

An early twentieth century setting. English marshland shrouded in fog. Rain, thunder, and lightning.  A graveyard shrouded in ivy and dead twigs. A decaying mansion high atop a hill. Rooms blanketed in dust and cobwebs. Dark hallways faintly lit by candlelight. The sounds of whispers and crying bouncing off the walls. A shadowy figure stalking the premises. From the first frame to the last, The Woman in Black looks and feels exactly the way a horror movie should look and feel. I would expect nothing less from Hammer Film Productions, which gave us the British horror films of the 1950s and ‘60s, many starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Here is a film that oozes atmosphere from every pore and keeps us on the edge of our seats in suspense.
Adapted from the novel by Susan Hill, the plot never ties to be anything more or less than a gothic Victorian ghost story, which in this case is not a drawback but a loving gesture on the part of the filmmakers. We’re not assaulted with crude slasher tactics like relentless gore, masked serial killers, and naked teenagers; instead, we’re made to savor the apprehension as it slowly gains momentum. Some of the pressure is relieved with an occasional pop out scare – throwaway gags to be sure, but effective nonetheless. Most of the time, however, it just keeps building, even when the story reaches its conclusion. When our hero slowly creeps his way down a dark passage with only a candle in his hand, we might think he’s crazy for even being in the house, but mostly we cling to our armchairs in sheer anticipation of something scary happening.

The hero is Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young lawyer from London. He has a four-year-old son named Joseph (Misha Handley), who can never draw a picture of his father without giving him a frowny face. Indeed, he has had good reason be miserable since the death of his wife, whose memory haunts him as surely as the title character eventually does. But I’m getting ahead of the story. He’s sent to a faraway village to settle the legal affairs of a recently deceased woman. The villagers look on him dourly, as if he were a harbinger of doom. One man immediately scuttles his children inside their home as soon as he passes by. Upon meeting a landowner named Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), Arthur becomes aware that there has been a disturbing pattern of local children inexplicably killing themselves. It becomes more apparent when he meets Sam’s wife (Janet McTeer), who appears to possess the ability to channel the spirit of her son.
Arthur settles himself in the dead woman’s sprawling, dilapidated estate, which can only be accessed via a winding dirt road that disappears every evening with the tide. It isn’t long before strange things begin to happen. Noises are heard off in the distance. A door, which was locked at first, suddenly opens and reveals a nightmarish nursery, complete with a rocking chair that rocks on its own, mechanical toys that suddenly spring into motion, and a collection of dirt-caked dolls with dead, glassy eyes that stare off into space. Initially intact family portraits are obscured when the eyes of each subject are scratched off. Strangest of all is the continuous appearance and disappearance of a woman in a black dress. Sometimes she’s outside the estate, off in the distance by a makeshift cross sticking out of the mud. Unbeknownst to Arthur – for a time, at least – she will sometimes appear right behind him.

This woman, whom we know to be a ghost, has been woven into the fabric of local legend, her appearance signaling the impending death of another child. She does, of course, have her own tragic back story that’s right in line with this genre. No need to spell it out for you. Chances are you already have a pretty good idea. Regardless, the secret of the Woman in Black endangers not only the remaining children of the village, but also Arthur’s son, who’s scheduled to join his father at the end of the week. Despite the fact that Sam doesn’t believe in ghosts, he teams up with Arthur in a desperate attempt to stop the Woman in Black before it’s too late.
Although Radcliffe is given his fair share of dialogue, much of his performance is spent treading cautiously down hallways, slinking into creepy rooms, and running after figures hidden in fog or shadow. It all depends on his ability to react. And yet he never tries for the exaggerated pantomime of a silent movie actor; he relies almost entirely on his eyes, which perpetually express grief, surprise, fear, or any combination of the three. Through his gaze, we understand how we’re feeling at any given moment during the film, and it’s quite possible we will continue to feel that way even when the movie is over. The Woman in Black is not about cheap thrills, which are anonymous and fleeting. It’s about stirring within us the very fears we cling to as children. The fact that you’re older now doesn’t make the dark any less scary.


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February 13, 2012
Wow, you liked this one a lot. I thought it was pretty good.
February 13, 2012
What can I say? I'm a sucker for atmospheric horror films.
February 18, 2012
I most definitely am too. In my opinion, if you can build up atmosphere and tension instead of resorting to repulsive, inhuman blood-and-gore; you are pretty darn talented.
February 18, 2012
We're definitely in agreement on that point.
February 05, 2012
You liked this more than I did. I just had some issues with its predictability. I know it may have been its intention, but it did hurt its aura of suspense for me a bit. Stil an enjoyable watch, loved the atmosphere and creepiness around it. Nice review.
February 05, 2012
It is mostly for the atmosphere that I recommended it so highly. You simply don't see too many horror movies like this anymore.
February 05, 2012
True, it was a great rendition of gothic horror.
More The Woman in Black (2012 film) reviews
review by . February 04, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
A Somewhat Enjoyable Homage To Classic Hammer Horror Films...
There is some hype surrounding director James Watkins’ film “The Woman in Black”. For one thing, Watkins has been known for the sleeper horror hit “Eden Lake”, this film resurrects the almost forgotten British horror studio “Hammer”, and for the last thing, it is Daniel Radcliffe’s first post “Harry Potter” role. Now does the hype stand up to the quality of the final film? Well, it is a well-made film, and admittedly it has its merits as …
review by . February 09, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
From the first frame of this movie, you know bad things will happen.  Everything on the screen, soundtrack, and dialogue is so dark and full of foreboding sounds and dark colors that it almost felt like an old Saturday afternoon Hammer film (hint:  it is a Hammer film!  They're back, and apparently not much has changed since  . . . !!!!).   I was almost expecting a title card saying "It was a dark and stormy night. . . . "  The unrelieved gloom and doom …
review by . February 13, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****    There's a fascinating scene in "The Woman in Black" where an eye scans a condensed room through a peephole in the door that conceals all that lies within it. The camera, mimicking the eye, moves from place-to-place; perhaps hoping to see or find something worth writing home about. After a few considerably well-spent seconds of searching; a shadow appears from out of the corner of the eye. The camera chases the source of this apparition; and it appears almost …
review by . February 08, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
What happened to the dog?
In the early 1900s, young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is sent to a remote village to go through the papers of a recently deceased old woman. He finds the villagers oddly hostile, yet sets about his work in the woman’s creepy, old house. There, he begins to unravel the story of a mysterious woman believed to haunt the place.      If you’re looking for a scary movie, look no further. There are scares every four minutes or so once Arthur starts (voluntarily …
Quick Tip by . February 01, 2012
Hey hey!    Anyone looking for a little extra insight into THE WOMAN IN BLACK, should check out my interview with its star, Daniel Radcliffe ...    http://www.blacksheepreviews.blogspot.com/20...s-daniel-radcliffe.html    Thanks for reading!
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


  • Opens tomorrow, February 3, 2012 | Runtime:1 hr. 35 min.
  • PG-13
    Thematic material and violence/disturbing images
  • Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), recently widowed and still grieving the loss of his wife, is sent to a remote village to put a deceased eccentric's affairs in order. But soon after his arrival, it becomes clear that the villagers are hiding a deadly secret. Kipps discovers that his late client's house is haunted by the spirit of a woman who is trying to find someone and something she lost, and that no one -- not even the children -- is safe from her terrible wrath.
  • Cast: Daniel Radcliffe
  • Director: James Watkins
  • Genres: Haunted House Film, Mystery, Thriller, Supernatural Thriller
  • Teaser poster art for "The Woman in Black."
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