Somewhat less than the sum of its scary parts, “The Woman In Black” is the sort of gothic horror spree that might have worked decades ago. But those really chilling classic elements have been rehashed on screen so many times since then, that their shock value however sinister, is diminished proportionately.
Which is not to say that an opening featuring malevolent Victorian dolls engaged in determined assisted suicide of possessed little girls in their midst, isn’t sufficiently unnerving and more. But most of what follows no matter how spooky, tends to register at the been there, done that mark on the movie fright meter.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as the unfortunate butt of relentless occult machinations in The Woman In Black as Arthur Kipps, a late 19th century London lawyer, widower and overwhelmed single dad whose wife died giving birth to their son. Nagged by both the irate motherless boy and his displeased boss on the verge of firing him for lack of sufficient focus on his duties, Kipps reluctantly accepts an offer he can hardly refuse from his tyrannical employer, to travel to a remote seaside creaky mansion. Where he is instructed to settle the will of the deceased elderly female recluse of the film’s title.
Foggy marshlands, haunted houses, self-winding antique music boxes, cobwebs, indoor crows, screeching apertures and empty rocking chairs on automatic pilot seem initially the least of Kipps’ woes. Upon arriving in the dreary village, he is coaxed to leave immediately by the unfriendly, anxious denizens. Even as the local children begin to die in terrifying ways. And blame is placed on the exceedingly unwelcome stranger and his efforts to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the demise of the woman in black, recorded on death records as ‘self-murder.’
The only helpful humans around, who provide mounting clues as to the connection of the dead woman to the muted, mass hysteria surrounding the perplexed but persistent Kipps, are The Daily’s (Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer). And though Kipps tentatively bonds with the couple who have suffered their own loss of a young child, an intermittently hallucinating Mrs. Daily’s grief coping mechanism of mothering twin chihuahuas instead, is a little off putting for him, to say the least.
Eventually Kipps overcomes his inner wimp, determined to defy the hostile villagers and get to the bottom of the blood curdling matters at hand. As he takes up vigil in the eerie ghost-inhabited house in question with candle and axe in hand.
Directed by James Watkins and based on the popular British 1983 novel by Susan Hill, The Woman In Black was a long running smash London stage hit as well. Though numerous alterations for the big screen by Jane Goldman – whose varied collection of screenplays includes The Debt, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class – may elicit very different reactions from the more jaded and visually demanding movie audiences. Who tend to prefer their horror served up with a lot more mangled flesh and blood drenched gore.
The Woman In Black
2 1/2 stars