With a good old-fashioned ghost story harkening back to the golden era of haunted house thrillers, “The Woman in Black” sets itself apart from today’s new wave of “Paranormal Activity”-style shockers. Yet, in the end, itlacks the spark for any of thejolts that would make you leap from your seat.
Arthur Kipps (DanielRadcliffe), a recently widowed lawyer, is summoned from London to settle the household affairs of a recently deceased woman in a remote costal town. The town’s citizens offer him a cold reception, seeming oddly fixated on protectingtheir children from theotherwise harmless-looking visitor.
After making his way to his client’s house, which can only be reached by a causeway that floods with the tides, thingsget spooky quick. Anapparition of a woman draped in black stalks Arthurthroughout the night,accompanied by mysterious childlike screams.
Returning to the town,Arthur discovers theentire town lives in fear of thewoman in black, who, with every appearance, driveschildren to kill themselves in increasingly chilling ways. It’s now up to Arthur to get tothe bottom of the ghost’smotives and find a way to end her reign of terrorbefore she takes the life of hisyoung son.
The first hurdle “TheWoman in Black” has to jump is having its audience seeRadcliffe as a grief-strickenlawyer and not in his iconic Harry Potter role.Resoundingly, it succeeds, with Radcliffe showing that he carries range outside of the multi-billion dollarfranchise. Never once will you wonder why he isn’t pulling out his wand at the variety ofghostly specters heencounters. He plays scared without ever reducing himself to wimpy, giving the audience a firm anchor to grasp.
After a spine-tinglingopening scene, the film is a bit of a slow burn,building tension for about the first 30 minutes before the real scares come into play. But when the scares do come,they end up a bit bland.
Quick jolts of terror caused by slamming doors or theregular sight of thewoman in black behind theshoulder of a characterbecome dull after a while. You can see every scare from miles away and they can make the buildup to the final 20 minutes tedious at times.
These final 20 minutes are masterfully paced, offering their fair share of thrills and a satisfying, if macabre, ending.
The film succeeds increating a moodyatmosphere, using the misty seaside town backdrop to its fullest. The haunted house at the center of the story is adelightful homage to every haunted house you’ve ever seen on late night TV or atDisney World, while stilllooking properly foreboding.
“The Woman in Black” was an honest attempt atrevisiting a now nearlyunrecognizable genre, but it just doesn’t gather enough steam to be anything above adequate. If anything, it’s proof that Radcliffe iscapable of a post-“Potter”career. Hopefully, he’ll choose something with a littlemore flair next time.