The Woman In Black is blessed and cursed by one indomitable thing. This ‘thing’ will have already dictated whether or not you venture to the cinema this week to watch The Woman In Black.
This ‘thing’ will also be the starting and end point for every review, interview or coverage for The Woman In Black from now until the end of time. This ‘thing’ is the first adult outing for the most famous schoolboy since Jesus attended Bethlehem comprehensive. It’s Daniel Radcliffe sans Harry Potter and as it is written, blessed and cursed.
Still haunted by his wife’s death giving birth to their only son, Arthur Kipps is a troubled man. His son paints pictures of his mother up in heaven and draws his dad with an upside down smiley. Struggling with debt and an unsympathetic boss Arthur is sent to tidy up the paperwork of a recently deceased client in a remote town lacking in hospitality. Shunned by the townsfolk, Arthur decides to stay at the dead woman’s house and quickly discovers he’s not alone…
Let’s get it out of the way. Daniel Radcliffe does a decent job in his first post Potter role. Watch any interview with the young actor and you’ll see someone genuinely in love with his job, trying desperately to prove his critics wrong. Witnessing such amiability and desire when Radcliffe talks would mean it’d be a fairly heartless individual who doesn’t wish him all the best in whatever plans he makes for himself. But sympathy alone can’t forgive his weaknesses.
Stripped of the iconography – wand, glasses and scar – the character of Arthur Kipps allows Radcliffe to capitalise on the good faith his lauded theatre work has given me with a part as theatrical as one could hope for on the big screen. Herein lies the rub. The once boy wizard doesn’t (yet) have the subtlety, facial or otherwise, to pull off the unforgiving big-screens range of emotions needed to establish himself as a truly credible actor. And when he opens his mouth to talk, wandless or not, all you hear is Harry.
Rocking a set of eyebrows that would make a future recipient of the NME Godlike Genius Award weep, Radcliffe is challenged with holding a great deal of the film accompanied only by a faithful mutt. Like a white, post pubescent I Am Legend its a tricky task and again it’s admirable to see him taking on a role so demanding. Whether reacting to the most disturbing doll collection since Gary Glitter went on a shopping spree at Hamleys or puzzled by shadows and faces reminding him of his lost love, the lead suffices. Just.
Stepping away from the film’s main talking point, the focus shifts to James Watkins and the Eden Lake director’s sophomore effort. Watkins talent for facilitating the foreboding factor makes him an astute choice for a film that lives or dies by its ability to generate suspense. In the presence of Kipps, The Woman In Black is essentially nothing more than a pesky poltergeist but try telling that to your central nervous system every time she pops her ghastly mug up. You’ll not only fear for the safety of the characters but the inside of your kecks too. Kudos must also go to the production designer for the grimmest and most unsettling haunted house in recent memory.
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After scribing a trio of movies centred around the fantastical and the comic book (Stardust, Kick Ass and X-Men: First Class) screenwriter Jane Goldman finally returns to her first love of all things “spooky”. Having penned two volumes of The X-Files companions (which this reviewer is not at all ashamed to admit to owning) Goldman appeared the perfect pick to adapt the play and the book, while still maintaining a fresh spin on things. Which makes it all the more crushing that the film’s major flaw should stem from her pen.
Because after an hour and a half of effective suspense everybody involved, and we mean everybody, drops the ball spectacularly with an ending so unclear and messy you’ll leave the theatre horrified for all the wrong reasons. An ending, and we mean this as much of an insult as it sounds, riddled with a touch of the Van Helsings. If you’ve never seen the appalling final minutes of the Hugh Jackman monster movie we won’t repeat its gag factor here, but for your own morbid fascination seek it out. Just don’t blame us if it gives you nightmares.
If you’ve seen the trailer above you’ll be aware that the children who inhabit the town in The Woman In Black have a little poem about the ghostly spectre. Well, here’s one for the film. “The woman in black/The woman in black/Thanks to its ending/It’s a little bit cack.”