Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Woman in Black


Is there screen life after Harry Potter for Daniel Radcliffe? The answer is a resounding yes, going by how the actor has now matured and is able to carry an entire movie on his own, and better yet, having extended scenes with nothing else but his character on screen the entire time, groping in the dark, figuring out what's lurking behind sinister shadows, looking afraid, yet resolute in sticking to what he's been tasked to do for family.

The Woman in Black, based on the novel by Susan Hill and is still an actively staged play, has more working for it than just Daniel Radcliffe's singular presence on screen. It's adapted for the big screen by Jane Goodman, responsible for adapting some of the best, in my opinion, stories in recent years such as Stardust, Kick-Ass, The Debt and X-Men: First Class. And director James Watkins may only be one film old, that effort was the remarkable Eden Lake, and he follows up that horror effort which was more slasher, with one that's more ghoulish here. I suppose having a strong story, which kept to its spirit (pardon the pun) rather than to follow verbatim, worked wonders, and Watkins pulls out all the stops despite having to dig in deep from the bag of old scare tactics and tricks.

Radclife plays the lawyer Arthur Kipps, who's given one final chance by his company to prove himself by heading out to a remote village to wrap up the paperwork for a, well, spooky mansion. A widower, he reluctantly bids his son farewell, and hops onto the next train hoping everything could be completed in time for the weekend, where he can be back in London to spend quality time with his kid. But Murphy's Law means that desire never really got fulfilled, as Arthur takes it upon himself to find out what exactly was going on in town when kids happen to die during his visit, with the villages adamant that he packs his bags and head home.

And with kids dying and dropping like flies, it got really creepy from the get go, where three girls inexplicably take off from their attic window, complete with eerie sounding music, and scary looking toys that seem to be popular items used by the art director to pepper the set with. And as a friend puts it, one can't really go wrong with haunted mansions, as we get one main mansion and a few other for red herring fun, but nonetheless having them milked for light and shadow play to perfection, complete with long dark corridors, creaking staircases, and a beautiful marsh in its immediate perimeter that isolates the house from civilization when the tide comes in. And when Watkins amplifies the horror quotient from the midway point with Arthur single handedly exploring what's behind some fast moving shadows and whispering noises, be prepared to let out a little girlie scream now and then, because such scary moments catches you offguard even though you're primed with anticipation of the usual tricks that come out of the bag. They all worked quite effectively to make you squirm a little in your seat.

The Woman in Black isn't all just silly scares with little substance though. At its core it wrapped things up pretty nicely in a sort of bittersweet fashion, and given its success at the box office, a sequel has recently been announced. The strength comes in the characters and their potential in adding a lot to the plot, such as Ciaran Hind's rich landowner Mr Daily, and his wife (Janet McTeer) who goes into a trance, seemingly possessed by their deceased kid who communicate through his mom. Mr Daily on the other hand isn't quite the believer despite the strange incidents happening around town, and proves to be quite the reliable ally for Arthur to maintain his sanity. As already mentioned, Radcliffe's Arthur will draw you to his cause as the man who's backed to a corner professionally, and having supernatural disturbances is the last thing he needs to derail his putting food on the table.

What also worked in the film's favour is its period setting, which somehow provides an additional dimension to the level of creepiness throughout, with plenty of shades of black and grey. The art direction is superbly handled, as is the cinematography and its score by Marco Beltrami, where without these strong technical attributes, The Woman in Black will probably pale in comparison to its film peers. It isn't everyday that a horror film has elements that clicked and don't come off as silly, so if you're in the mood for a little creepiness, then this film will undoubtedly and should be your choice. Recommended!

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