Let’s get this out in the open right away: Yes, The Woman In Black scared me. Creeped me right out, in fact. And I suspect that if you are a fan of haunted house films, this one will be well worth your time. To be honest, haunted house stories always get under my skin far more easily than a slasher movie or gore fest ever will.
British horror production house Hammer has recently come back onto the scene, with their first film in decades being Let Me In just a couple of years back. The Woman In Black is new Hammer’s first attempt at a more classical, gothic, and decidedly British horror film (the type of film Hammer was really known for back in the 1970s.) It turns out that the film is based on a popular horror novel that already had a pretty loyal following, but I had no familiarity with the story.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young lawyer, father, and widower who is given one last shot at redeeming his career after having fallen into depression at the loss of his wife. So it is with a dogged determination that Mr. Kipps sets out to finish the job given him. He wants to shake himself out of grief and he is determined to be a good father to his young son. This particular task is to put the estate affairs in order for a wealthy and eccentric and deceased woman in an isolated countryside. Yet when Mr. Kipps arrives, it is clear that the town lives in fear of the very home he must get in order. And it doesn’t take long at all for Mr. Kipps himself to come in contact with the dreaded Woman In Black.
This is a classically told ghost story, and all great ghost stories do have a spiritual element to them. With almost no gore, The Woman In Black frightens viewers the old fashioned way: through atmosphere, a ripping yarn of a tale, and a genuinely frightening ghost!
In this case The Woman In Black haunts her own former manor, as well as the nearest town, in search of the son that was lost in the marshlands surrounding her isolated mansion. When The Woman appears to the children of the town, they are helpless to disobey her, and proceed to kill themselves in various ways which could be interpreted as horrible accidents. But too many children in this town have met with “accidents” and all are on the watch for The Woman.
The afterlife becomes a very important component to this particular ghost story, more so than many others. Mr. Kipps is in the midst of unshakeable grief over the loss of his wife, and is therefore particularly fascinated by what might happen beyond the grave. We are clued in that he is curious about séances and the like. So in a pretty twisted way, Mr. Kipps is compelled to confront The Woman In Black. After all, if there can be one ghost walking this earth, maybe his wife could be as well.
The film offers thorough motivation for Mr. Kipps to delve deeper and deeper into the mystery of The Woman instead of simply packing up and heading home. But even still, when Arthur goes down that dark hallway, you kind of wish he wouldn’t. Even though you know he will encounter The Woman, director James Watkins manages to pull out every trick in the book to terrify you at each turn of a corner.
So as Arthur gets pulled deeper and deeper into the story of The Woman In Black, I suspect many horror fans will willingly follow him on the journey. Some of the plot points feel a little too well trodden, such as when Mr. Kipps tries to placate the ghost by reuniting her with her lost son. It feels too similar to lots of other horror films I have seen, where the promise of mystery starts to unravel when the real plan is finally hatched. The third act machinations to bring the story to a close often feel very pedestrian when compared to the magic and haunting mystery of the first acts of the film. You find yourself thinking: “This is your plan for bringing an end to the haunting?” But a few well-trodden horror tropes aside, I needed the distraction of my phone and the safety of a blanket to keep me safe from The Woman In Black.
This disc offers a commentary track with Director James Watkins and Screenwriter Jane Goldman, as well as a behind the scenes featurette and another short focus on star Daniel Radcliffe’s turn as Arthur Kipps. Overall, it feels like a standard package for a worthy little haunted house film.