‘The Woman in Black’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 27th, 2014 at 3:47 pm,

The Woman in Black 2012 starring Daniel Radcliffe Review The Woman in Black Review

Even though this movie maintains a steady simmer, it never boils over into unbridled terror. Not the best the genre has to offer – but not the worst, either.

In The Woman in Black we find Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe taking on a more adult supernatural tale, about a vengeful ghost that haunts a small town in the English countryside.

When widower lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is dispatched to the east coast town of Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow, he goes knowing the task is his last chance to prove to his boss that grief hasn’t crippled his ability to work. It’s that same perseverance that keeps Arthur going when he begins to notice the trend of strange occurrences happening in and around Crythin Gifford: children locked in their houses like prisoners, townspeople treating him as if he has the plague, and a blatant attempt by some sympathetic locals to turn him back toward home.

Of course, Arthur doesn’t truly understand what is so wrong until he crosses the perennially-foggy marshlands along the coastline to visit Eel Marsh House, the Drablow Estate. Once inside the old mansion, Arthur quickly begins to see and hear things that are far from ordinary – chairs that rock on their own, the sound of footsteps where no person walks – and now and again, a mysterious woman dressed in mourning garb, who appears in windows or off in the distance.

As Arthur digs into the mystery of this mysterious figure and her connection to the Drablows and the townsfolk, his stony demeanor slowly crumbles before the increasing evidence that something unholy exists in Eel Marsh House.

The Woman in Black Window Scare The Woman in Black Review

The Woman in Black continues to mark the return of Hammer Films, the UK production house known for its trademark Gothic horror flicks, and director James Watkins (The Descent 2, Eden Lake) succeeds in creating a chilling world of ghosts and shadows to play in. The film is based on the 1983 novel by Susan Hill, which has already been adapted as both a stage play and a 1980s TV miniseries. Acclaimed screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, The Debt, X-Men: First Class) makes a few changes to the tale, but it is essentially the same ghost story – and therein lies the problem.

Any ghost story needs its “rules” – i.e., the establishment of certain information and backstory –  such as where the ghost came from, how it behaves, what its powers are, etc. Though this task is handled pretty heavy-handedly in the film (exposition dumps and voice-over narration), we learn from the very first frame that this particular dark spirit targets children, forcing them to commit brutal acts of self-extermination. It’s a plot-point that gives way to some truly horrific child death scenes in the film – but at the same time, it leaves very little at stake for our main character, Arthur, who is an adult.

This is why The Woman in Black is both highly effective and highly ineffective in its attempt to terrify. The plot is flimsy as they come (basically, Arthur has to sit around an old mansion by himself for hours on end, looking through a dead woman’s creepy artifacts), but it still provides context for some good extended scare sequences. Indeed, Watkins makes smart use of that time, and on the whole, a lot of what Arthur encounters in the mansion is bone-chilling and/or squirm-inducing. The images of death, supernatural occurrences and violence stick in mind even after the end credits roll.

The Woman in Black Daniel Radcliffe Review The Woman in Black Review
However, after a few rounds of jump scares and frightening imagery are done, the anticipation and dread begin to dissipate as it becomes clear that there is no danger to Arthur himself (remember those “rules?”), and that indeed, he is only a peripheral figure in the eyes of the spirit, whose real prey is children (themselves peripheral characters in the film). We never get that catharsis of seeing an important character facing death, or the feeling that our protagonist himself could die – so the prospect of being scared quickly settles into the mild satisfaction of being creeped out, and an attempt at a climactic third act twist does nothing to redeem that downward slope.

Similarly, Radcliffe’s character goes from having the potential to a be complex and tragic figure (consumed with grief in the same way the ghost is), to simply being the guy who is too emotionally stunted to freak out or run away from the bizarre happenings like most of us would. The actor succeeds in leaving his Harry Potter persona somewhat behind – but admittedly, that Radcliffe-brand world-weary look is something both characters share. Ciarán Hinds’ character (a skeptic with a half-mad wife) also seems like he will be rich with potential at the onset – but ultimately settles into a sidekick role instead.

The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe Review The Woman in Black Review

Daniel Radcliffe in ‘The Woman in Black’

The film’s greatest asset is no doubt the set piece of Eel Marsh House. The land is bleak and foggy and foreboding, and the combination of impeccable set design by Niamh Coulter, smart cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones and creative direction by Watkins makes the mansion a true house of horrors. Even in daylight, the various props decorating house make it look treacherous and freakish, and Watkins and Jones play with angles, space, and lighting to give off the distinct effect that even minor objects are menacing (see: the toy collection), and that every shadow on the peripheral or down a length of hallway hides something sinister. Best haunted house I’ve seen in awhile.

Ultimately, The Woman in Black amounts to the sort of creepy ghost story that one might hear around a campfire. At most it will keep you squirming in your seat, ready to duck your face into your hands or shirt – but even though this movie maintains a steady simmer, it never boils over into unbridled terror. Not the best the genre has to offer – but not the worst, either.

The Woman in Black is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

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Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. *SPOILERS* * SPOILERS* Sure scary spooky parts, but WOW story was lacking hard. Every character needed a Huge backstory that never happened. Potter’s character was so flat- waa wwaa wife died, must sort papers and sell house, i see a old lady in black. Must make her happy so town kids don’t die. I like how every time he goes back into town no one really tells him much, but towns people kids keep dying. The lady in black and her sister, the one she is mad about cause she let her kid die needed more story so bad i was waiting for it for so long. Then what gets me was when Potter sees the writing of what the lady in black left on the wall ” you could have saved him” and at the end he saves his kid, but they both die, lame. I guess there was only two ways to end it but whatever. Im just getting to old now ware i need more story in my movies, tired of same old movies ware its cliché love interest and pretty explosions. Time for me to read more books I guess. I do however give it a 3.5 outta 5 stars on the creepy scenes, not bad imagery.

    • Valid comments all, but I will add that the reason the townfolk don’t tell Kipps directly what’s going on is they are afraid to even discuss TWIB out of fear she will appear even in the town (which she does in the book and the play versions) and kill again. They at least confront Kipps later on to try and get him out of town, which again doesn’t happen in the book, but they do it to try and address what you found lacking because they took it away in other parts. But, don’t forget the Daily character, who represents the fact that there are others in the town likely who still find TWIB to be an old wive’s tale. In all, yes, they changed the plotline a bit, probably to make it fresh for those who read the book or saw the play, but needed to pay closer attention to what they lost in the process.
      I wanted there to be a closer connection between Kipps and TWIB established, because they both lost loved ones, to heighten the impact of TWIB’s choice at the end.

  2. the worst ending i have ever seen made no sense the plot wasn’t very good

    • The Woman In Black sort of thanked him for re-uniting her and her son by giving Daniel Radcliffe’s character and his son a reunion with the mother/wife. Because that’s what made them truly happy in the end.

      • *SPOILER I thought the ending was great I mean what did he have to go home to? He would have gotten fired, he wouldve probally lost the house lost his kid this way he’s with his family.

      • I never thought of it that way. I personally really enjoyed the movie, I thought it was better than what most people are saying, but the ending confused me because I always thought it had nothing to do with the plot. I thought “he reunites her with her son, so she kills him…. Well others than that it was good!” but now that you say that it makes sense. Thanks!

        • Well, the fact that he and his son are reunited with his wife is only a happy coincidence. If you recall, there is a part just after he leaves the house for the last time. It has a few shots of the empty house, and has TWiB reciting a specific part of one of the letters she sent to her sister: “I will NEVER forgive…” And she doesn’t…
          A ghost is like the manifestation of a twisted emotion, forced to repeat itself over and over again. For the TWiB to acknowledge any form of gratitude, or anything other than extreme grief and hatred, would negate its existence.

  3. If she was doing that how would she know the dad would see the kid in time and jump on the tracks?

    • I loved the movie. Daniel Radcliffe has grown so much in his acting since Harry Potter days. I truly believed he was older and a very morose, sad, grieving father. I thought it was slow going but now feel it needed to be so to let the story unfold eerily. The house was wonderful as a haunted house, how could it be anything else. The ending I was very surprised and happy for. If he had been saved it would have been another happy ending and too cliche to suit me. I wasn’t scared and only jumped a few times but I owe that to watching too many scary movies. My fellow moviegoers were truly scared and afraid to sleep afterwards. All in all, I will watch it again and really ejoyed it.

  4. Just saw this movie… You know it’s not going to be a great review when you see three periods after, “Just saw this movie.”

    Some spoilers.

    What to say? It was dark with intentional up close scenes of creepy dolls and dark rooms. Haunting were the sounds that emanating from the other side of the room. But I ask, how many times should one get up to investigate a sounds, a shadow, a movement- a ghost? You know it’s a ghost if you keep seeing it one second and the next there is nothing. After the 5th time seeing it, just get your work done and go home. Stop chasing it, man! I tired of the chase. It just lasted too long.

    I feel like a burned a thousand calories watching that movie- not because of the fright, but because of the running around.

    • I should have concentrated more when writing that. It was the movie’s fault.

    • Well said!

      I, too, loved the film.

  5. Okay…
    Creep factor was definitely high. I did jump a few times and something about people staring through the windows at you, really freaks me out. The suspense and the visuals were good. Especially one of the dead girls, she really freaked me out.
    I wish there would have been more dialogue and background from the characters. I do however, like the way TWIB repayed Radcliffe because it was both a depressing and happy ending and then creepy when it showed her again. Though, i wish they would make a sequel and had an ending on this one where she took both Kibbs & Joseph. That would be cool.

    Over all, it was a pretty good movie and his acting was wonderful!

  6. I only watched like 10 minutes of the first Harry Potter movie, so I won’t be biased about Radcliffe’s acting :) In my opinion he was good. Not excellent, especially because I REALLY liked Roger Allam’s acting and could see the difference. Radcliffe had great opportunity to use and show many behaviours, make a big acting show off. But he didn’t do it and I think he did the right thing, it showed his understanding for acting. He may seem dull at times, but remember, his character was still in deep grief after his wife, so he couldn’t act like American action hero. Also his character was not quite main character – he was never in danger personally, he was a witness to strange things who doesn’t know or understand much. Later, it was only possible danger to his son that invoked some motivation for him to act. Maybe Radcliffe could have built more tragic character, but I accept what he offered.
    What I really loved about the film was the fact of FANTASTIC job when it comes to the house and decorations. Also not too many FAKE scary moments (Americans seems to overuse it) like loud opening of the door – by somebody visiting , etc.
    The plot wasn quite good, I actually liked that for a long time we don’t know why these things happen. Also the motif with ‘crazy’ lady who lost her son and sometimes gets either insane or ‘really’ acts like a medium is not exploered too much.
    I’m afraid too many people compare this film to American movies, and I appreciate every trace of European acting/movie making in it.
    I give the movie 4 out of 5.

  7. I really enjoyed this movie even though I almost wet myself. But hey, that’s when you know the film had a great director!

  8. Best ending ever watching daniel radcliffe getting hit by a train if only it happened in real life.

  9. Just watched the movie and was a bit confused at the part where he lays out “her” son on the bed. When she comes for him you can hear him say “Nooo, it’s not my mother”.
    Anyone explain that for me?

    • Wow, first let me say that I did not hear that line spoken in the movie. Which doesn’t mean I doubt you, just that I missed it. The line would fit in this way: TWIB was separated from her child from early on and was only allowed to visit him under the pretense that TWIB not reveal that she was actually his mother. Remember, Mrs. Drablow adopted him. I don’t recall if this came it during the movie (it does in the play), but TWIB planned on running away with the child but then the accident happened.

      Thematically, it fits in as well. Kipps was trying the mother-son reunion as a way to appease TWIB, and for the son to not recognize her and to “want his mommy” instead would have been crushing for her, and would have made her continue on with her evil ways. I’m surprised I missed it, because I think the whole appeasement thing was an important part of the film. I believe the play contained an element of this as well, though the failed attempt at some sort of appeasement comes from TWIB herself, not from Kipps, who in the play knows far less about what’s going on until it’s pretty much over. Kipps is an outsider, and TWIB hadn’t had to interact with an outsider in quite some time. The play can be viewed as her “inviting” Kipps into Eel Marsh house, into the child’s room, etc., to show her grief to someone she thinks might be sympathetic, only to reject the possible bond with Kipps and return to evil form.

    • I hope this is a joke… but at the risk of taking the bait, the reason you might have seen the woman in the window in the picture was that she was allowed to see her son but was not allowed to tell him he was her son. No children died (in vengeful ways, you know what I mean) before her son drowned.

      • Had they burned her eyes out? The Woman in the window has no eyes. Oh … and why are they making a sequel if we already know the whole story? Is it going to be the new Ghostbusters movie? There is something more sinister going on than just hatred!

        • Dude, you are grasping at things that are not there. All these assumptions are based off of one picture which isn’t even mentioned in the book. TWiB had nothing to do with the drowning of Nathaniel Drablow, because she did not exist yet. Jennet Humphrey, sister of Alice Drablow (btw, the book freely admits this, at the end), IS TWiB, and she was still alive at the time of her estranged son’s drowning. As for the rest of your assumptions/questions, there are no answers because they don’t exist. Your whole theory is based on the assumption that TWiB has always been a part of the house, which is obviously not the case. It is apparent that YOU were the one who got it wrong, or went into the movie with pre-existing assumptions.

          Go troll somewhere else, we ain’t buyin it here.

  10. Haven’t reviewed the tape yet, but if the woman in black’s eyes appear “burnt out,” that would likely equate with her eyes actually being “in shadow” as she peers out the window. Or, the cinematographer might have been employing a special effect process called “cheating” to make her appear more sinister than an ordinary person would appear. That said, her appearance is also consistent with her having suffered from a “wasting disease” before she died.
    By contrast, your interpretation, I hate to say, seems wildly inconsistent with what was on the screen.

  11. I really enjoyed this film even though I almost wet myself. But then again I am a 92 year old granny! I found Daniel Radcliffe awfully sweet in the movie.

  12. I loved the movie. It was prett good. They could have of made a better ending, but I eman it was good. And scary too. had a large popcorn and half of it landed on the floor lol.

  13. I have seen good movies and bad, awful movies and wonderful movies but this movie is HORRIBLE!! If you have 90 minutes of life to waste then; watch this movie. If you value each moment of life spend that time with your wife/husband. Each person is entitled t an opinion and my opinion is this movie is HORRIBLE!

    • Well, you are, of course, welcome to your opinion…I happen to be one who disagrees utterly.

      • Agree with Archaeon, and would add that the worth of the negative commentary is belied by the complete absence of analysis, detail, or even some rudimentary description of the author’s negative emotional reaction. Ironically, the author provides that “If you value each moment of life spend that time with your wife/husband,” which actually describes at least one of the emotional triggers for Kipps that pulls the story along.