Horror review: The Woman in Black

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, FEB. 1, 2012

By Steve Newton

One of the first movies to freak me out as a kid was The Haunting, a 1963 fright flick about a group of paranormal investigators studying an ominous mansion. Robert Wise’s black-and-white ghost story is a masterful study in less-is-more horror, where the fear comes mostly from what you don’t see.

The Woman in Black successfully plumbs the atmospheric vibe of The Haunting but is even more disturbing because all its bad stuff happens to little kids. James Watkins’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 novel is as dark as you’d expect from the director of 2008’s savage Eden Lake.

Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a young Victorian lawyer haunted by the passing of his wife. He’s sent from London to the northern coast of England to oversee the financial affairs of Mrs. Drablow (Alisa Khazanova), the deceased resident of a remote oceanside mansion called Eel Marsh House. On the train there, he befriends local landowner Mr. Daily (the always strong Ciarán Hinds), who has also suffered personal tragedy but is handling (or hiding) it better than his new acquaintance.

The grim-looking Eel Marsh House is as isolated as possible, since its only access route vanishes during high tide. When Kipps sets up shop within its Gothic confines, Watkins pulls out all the spooky stops, effectively wringing fear from every dingy nook and cranny in the place. Kipps eventually figures out that the multiple child deaths plaguing the nearby villagers are being caused by the vengeful spirit of the titular spectre he keeps seeing everywhere.

Radcliffe’s performance is wooden in spots but doesn’t damage the overall effect of this handsomely shot, well-paced, and smartly written ghost tale. The Woman in Black is creepy enough to recommend to long-suffering horror fans who are due for an old-fashioned respite from the gory, hyperactive shockfests of today.

I’m talkin’ to you, Underworld: Awakening.

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