‘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. So you’re biggest complaint is that it’s a traditional ghost story that brings nothing new? As in the book that is the quintessential ghost story of our time?
    A bit of an odd critique.

    • I think it’s less that it’s a traditional ghost story and more that its genre rules prevent it from actually presenting real scares.

    • @Beckett. I didn’t say that at all.

      Nichtus and Ord seem to get what I’m saying.

      • Potter only said two words/phrases through the whole movie : “Hello?” and “Who’s There?” oh and he also said “Goodnight”

  2. Deffiantly had suspense and has a creep factor. But it feels like a long slow build up to not much payout. I never really feared or was concerned about the main character. 3/5

  3. Well that’s a bit disappointing. I was actually impressed at how grown up and suited “Harry Potter” (Radcliffe) matched the role he played and hoped he would be able to shine in his first acting lead away from Hogwarts.

    • i so agree with you.

    • I believe he DOES shine in the role. The film, however , was not actually scary…which is one of the reasons the film worked so beautifully for me.

  4. What’s wrong with a low-key ghost story. Anyone remember The Innocents with Deborah Kerr? Today’s “Saw” and “Final Destination” fans wouldn’t like the classic film, and probably won’t like this one.

    • I agree Lisa. Today’s fans must have blood and gore to satisfy their animal instincts. True terror comes from the mind, not the gut.
      I’m sure you’re too young to have ever heard of a movie called,”The Uninvited”, starring Ray Milland, Gail Russell and Donald Crisp.
      Strangely enough it has never been transferred to DVD apparently. Now, that was a ghost story that really made you think while you were being scared.
      It had only one brief special effect in the whole film, but the build up to that effect and how it was used is an art lost to filmmakers today. I hope that “The Uninvited” is one day offered for rental by Netflix. If that ever happens, don’t you miss it.

    • I sooooo agree Lisa!
      Read the original novel by Susan Hill. I’m sure you’ll like it.
      (see my comment below)

    • A low key ghost story in itself is not bad.
      Just that some low key ghost stories arent that good.

      • This one was.

  5. the 1st saw was good. it kept you guessing all the way to the end. same kind of goes for the 1st FD. the sequels however…gore for gores’ sake. i may check this one out. go on a tuesday night when it’s 5 bucks.

  6. I am really looking forward hopefully to this movie, and will definitely watch it. In fact, if it is truly good, I will buy the DVD. I am also looking forward to Red Lights, with Sigourney Weaver, which looks like it could be a couple hours well-spent. If you are looking for something atmospheric as a ghost story without a bunch of blood and gore, might I recommend The Changeling, with George C. Scott. I thoroughly enjoyed that one, and yes, bought the DVD. There are a couple of decent creep-moments in that one I think many of you will enjoy!

  7. The movie was way to scary for me! I haven’t screamed so much in my life!

  8. Looks interesting, might give it a go…is this better as a watch in the cinema, or as an alone-at-night-in-a-small-room type of viewing?

    And is it just me, or does Radcliffe not quite look like a widower…I suppose it’s partly that his character actually is young (time period of the movie?) but even though he’s been made to look more aged, he still comes off as pretty young.

  9. It was creepy as hell. I highly recommend you guys to see it! The ending was soooooo good. I love great endings and the movie keeps you thinking till after it has finished. I saw it an hour ago and Im still thinking about it lol. You wont be dissapointed (: Radcliffe was good as well. And the dolls and figures were the creepiest.

    • Alright so I wanna see this movie soo bad. But it almost sounds stupid the way some people put it. How I hear it is that nothing even trys to go after Daniel. I am just rather confuse about the whole plot line right now.

  10. I’m still going to see it. This is my kind of horror film, suspense affects me much more than gore. Can’t wait!

  11. Creepy and eerie is the too most terms i will tell people about this movie for i thoroughly enjoyed it. It had a few jumps in it but i knew they were coming but still jumped anyway. I did like how it ended though for it defiently felt like a good ending and even though you may say Arthur was never in real danger but pyschological he was in danger in losing his mind to the thought of his son coming and the realization that the too he may die if he did come. I give it four stars for i enjoyed the story and the creepy and errie factor that was defiently felt.

    Side note, i kept trying to not think of him thinking as Potter saying damn hogwart’s never did prepare me for this creepy stuff as he was walked down the creepy hallway with a candle and a axe twoard the now opened door with the thumps coming from what should have been a desereted room.

  12. I thought this was a good movie. It could have defiantly been a little scarier, but overall it was good and suspenseful. I found myself covering my eyes and peeking through my fingers, lol. It is something anyone would like, very creepy props, great acting, awesome story, and a sad ending. It’ll make you second guess a shadow next time your in the dark alone!

  13. Don’t waste your time or money.

    • Why would you consider either a waste for this film?

  14. Watched it,Loved it !
    A really good Movie I thought,with a great setting and atmosphere build up !
    I watched many Hounted House Movies,and this here is definitely one of the best !
    Recommended if you enjoy a creepy story!

  15. You know I actually really enjoyed this movie. That house was so creepy, the second he walked in I felt like I was the one stuck there. It was very scary to me, and even though I rarely jump in movies, this one had me jumping every time a scare came up. This movie was great in it’s spook factor and the atmosphere, and at the end I was afraid for the main character. Five stars, I haven’t watched something this good in a long time.

  16. I’ve read the original novel by Susan Hill, and I wish the film had dispensed with the chintzy American style treatment, i.e. phoney-looking cobwebs, lots of Olde English bricabrak everywhere, during an everlasting foggy night.
    The author seemed to deliberately dispense with all those old cliches (many of the creepiest parts take place outdoors in winter sunshine)and managed to produce a really compelling and disturbing story.

    • Ummm, a good portion of the film takes places during the day and even outside…


  17. Having said that, it’s great to see Hammer Films come back from the dead!

  18. I agree with the review. The feeling of dread is done so well and adds to the suspense of the next scare…but you start to relize soon after several of his encounters with the woman that hes not really in danger, she poses no threat to him that takes alot away from it and it seems that they result to jump scares. They do nonething for me,id much rather b creeped out then have someone attempt to frighten me with a loud yell. Great date movie tho.

  19. Maybe he worked for Rupert Murdoch and thats why he had to go through all those papers?

  20. also so at the end *SPOILER*
    when they are dead why didnt they just beat the crap out of the woman?
    They are on equal footing, all ghosts.
    I woudlnt have forgiven either ;-)

  21. also lots of people laughed 3-4 times in the movie

  22. So far best scary movie of the year 4 me! Not that it waz scary only but I it waz good! It waz sad too! It waz so worth my $ n time! At first the movie started slow n boring n it likes no point cuz u don’t c anything but just but just things that would make u pop n it didn’t work 4 me! But the middle 2 the end waz good! At first I wazin sure but after watching it I love it!

  23. I read the book first, and normally I like the books better than the movies, but in this case I didn’t.
    I thought the movie was really good. There were a few good “jump out of your seat” moments. You were always waiting for something to happen and the second you didn’t, that’s when it struck. I felt like I was a part of the movie going along the journey with Arthur Kipps.
    It wasn’t an over the top, CGI, 3D, music filled movie. It was a dark, scary and traditional ghost story.
    When they say less is more, it holds true to this type of movie. It doesn’t have to be all blood and guts to be good horror movie.

  24. is the discussion board up? I have some bones to pick with this review but I really don’t want to spoil anything.

  25. I think the writer’s comment that there was nothing at stake for Kipps (Radcliffe) is a bit off. First, the movie was careful to remind the audience that Kipps’ son was coming to visit him in the town. Second, just because the woman was known for killing children doesn’t necessarily mean that is all she would do. Third, even though you may not exactly fear for your life, that doesn’t take all the horror away, there is such a thing as fear of the unknown. This is especially so since Kipps after awhile can be seen as trying to engage the woman. Fourth, Kipps is not like the other townfolk. He is an innocent intruder, stumbling blindly into the house. This could “change the game” for the woman, and Kipps’ attempt to reunite the woman’s son with the woman is a thematic outgrowth of this (but they should have done a more to connect the woman and Kipps on an emotional basis). The film did fall a little short in this respect — the novel (and play) tell us the the townfolk treated the woman as an outcast and a pariah while she was alive (she contracted a “wasting disease” following the death of her son). This of course stokes up her ire and the revenge factor against the townfolk.

    • Meaning…what?

  26. The movie was a thick stew of creepy stuff, but the story was thin as miso soup.
    It’s scary in the “yikes, loud sudden noises” way, but not in any intellectual or interesting way.

    • also, I really thought the ending was a major let down.
      Too cheesy, too simple, very deflating.

  27. Unfortinately I read the book before going to see the movie. the movie loosely follows the book which is disappointing but at the same time something audiences as a whole are used to. I’m sure it would have been a lot more enjoyable if I had skipped the book. For a period horror movie, it was fantastic with a couple goofs. Such as the fact that the dog gotally disappears at the end and no one notices XD

  28. This movie was good and daniel is HOT :D