WBRi Movie Review: Daniel Radcliffe Comes of Age in Eerie Hollywood Horror Film THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)

The Woman In Black (2012) Hollywood English Horror Movie Playing in Theaters in Kolkata

Calcutta, India, Feb 17, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio / Penning Creations) There exists a category of films that are universally regarded as relatively ‘safe’ ventures by the entire movie fraternity. Such films inevitably boast of sound (and already popular!) storylines, expert direction and nuanced performances from their actors. Movies belonging to the recently concluded ‘Harry Potter’ franchise can be counted as prime examples of such ‘safe’ films. While the box-office success of these movies were never in doubt (indeed, expectations were exceeded in the case of a couple of these films!), the ‘Harry Potter’ series of movies showcased the histrionic prowess of three fine, young and highly talented actors. Indeed, Daniel Radcliffe, who benefited the most from this dream start to his Hollywood career, had managed to become a household (and much sought after!) name, long before the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise had reached its finale. Radcliffe now returns with the James Watkins-directed horror-thriller flick, ‘The Woman In Black.’ Watkins had already proved his credentials as a master storyteller of this genre, with his directorial debut, ‘Eden Lake’, wowing critics and cinegoers alike. The question that movie buffs had in their mind was, whether Daniel Radcliffe, now outside his ‘Harry Potter’ cocoon, will be able to hold the interest of the viewers with yet another commanding performance. The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes, for ‘The Woman In Black’ (a PVR Pictures release in India) is a film to savour for horror movie fans!

Trailer: The Woman in Black (English, 2012)

The movie relates the tale of ‘Arthur Kipps’ (Daniel Radcliffe), a young and moderately successful British lawyer. However, professional success do not quite manage to erase out the intense pain and grief that ‘Arthur’ suffered, when his wife, ‘Stella’ (Sophie Stuckey) had died while giving birth to their only son. Four years have passed on since that tragedy, but ‘Arthur’ is still haunted by visions of his deceased wife. Life grows tedious for our protagonist, who has only his infant son, ‘Joseph’ (Misha Handley) and a nanny (Jessica Raine) to call upon as family. The financial conditions of ‘Arthur’ take a turn for the worse too, adding to the complicacies of the situation. All on a sudden, ‘Arthur’ receives news that he has been put in charge of a lucrative assignment, at the estate of ‘Alice Drablow’. ‘Arthur’ (with his son and the nanny in tow!) immediately proceeds to the Eel Marsh House, one of the prime components of ‘Alice’s property. While ‘Arthur’ treats this turn of events as a fortunate stroke of luck, viewers (particularly fans of scary flicks!) would surely know better!

Strange things start happening as soon as ‘Arthur’ tries to begin his paperwork at the Eel Marsh house. To start off with, ‘Arthur’ is struck by the odd, inhospitable behaviour of the local people. The only people who seem friendly and co-operative in the entire region are ‘Sam Daily’ (Ciaran Hinds), a well-to-do landowner, who lives there with his wife, ‘Elizabeth’ (Janet McTeer). ‘Arthur’ is further perplexed by the repeated sightings of a mysterious lady in a black dress, who seems to roam around the entire Eel Marsh House. Matters come to a head when two local boys arrive at the house with their sister, who had taken poison and is on the verge of dying. The young lady duly passes away and ‘Arthur’ manages to unearth the fact that several such cases of child suicides have been happening for some time in the locality. If the local myth is to be believed, it is precisely that ‘woman in black’, whom ‘Arthur’ had seen at the Eel Marsh House, who is responsible for these deaths. The reason for such malicious deeds on the part of the spirit, you ask? Simple! In her lifetime, the lady had been forcibly kept apart from her only son and, after death, she has taken the pledge to take away the lives of young local kids as her revenge.

Intrigued by this piece of apparently baffling information, ‘Arthur’ tries to find out more about the history of the Eel Marsh House. Inquiries reveal that ‘Alice’s sister, ‘Jennet’ (Liz White) was a mentally unstable person, rendering the latter incapable to look after her son ‘Nathaniel’. This had (unjustly!) aggrieved ‘Jennet’ a great deal – a grief that she had carried with her beyond her grave. The young ‘Nathaniel’ had died soon too and his mother was now bent on unleashing her wrath on all the young kids at that place. ‘Elizabeth’ (who has certain powers to connect with those on the other side), in a sudden fit, reveals to ‘Arthur’ that ‘the woman in black’ had now set her sights on little ‘Joseph’, the only person in the world that ‘Arthur’ is attached to. Will ‘Arthur’ be successful in saving his son from the vengeance of the spirit? Or, will the ghost prove to be way too overbearing for ‘Arthur’ to effectively fight against? Find that out at the theatres, for it is indeed worth knowing the answer!

‘The Woman In Black’ does not offer much in the way of novelty as far as the main storyline is concerned. There is the stereotypical old (and grand!) house, a forlorn spirit roaming the area and a curse that simply refuses to go away. While viewers have come across these themes in many other spooky flicks, what stands out in ‘The Woman In Black’ is its stylish narrative and the element of surprise and genuine terror it manages to generate among the audience, at several points of the movie. At a time when Hollywood is regularly churning out bloody gorefests in the name of horror films, this truly chill-inducing movie indeed comes as a welcome relief. The very fact that ‘The Woman In Black’ relies more on keeping the viewers on tenterhooks as to what fate awaits the lead characters, rather than on open, ghostly manifestations, adds to the overall charm of the movie.

Daniel Radcliffe does a star turn as ‘Arthur’ in ‘The Woman In Black.’ Radcliffe portrays the long-standing grief of ‘Arthur’ at the loss of his wife, his wild surprise in the face of the inexplicable events that start happening in his life and his evident desperation to save his son from an evil, supernatural force, in an entirely believable manner. The young actor never allows his ‘Harry Potter’ persona to overshadow the character of ‘Arthur Kipps’, which is a praiseworthy achievement in itself. The emoting skills of Daniel Radcliffe is getting steadily better with each one of his films and, at this rate, he seems poised for even bigger things in the Hollywood industry. Radcliffe’s sincere and riveting performance goes a long way in ensuring that viewers remain hooked to the movie at all times.

For the success of any horror movie, the actor essaying the part of a supernatural being needs to come up with a credible performance. ‘The Woman In Black’ scores on that count too. Liz White, in (and as!) ‘The Woman In Black’, is refreshingly evil and frightening and manages to send down some genuine shivers along the viewers’ collective spines. White manages to lend generous doses of eeriness and fright-quotient to the movie and her performance is definitely one of the highlights of the film (as it should be!). Misha Handley, as ‘Arthur’s little son, looks cute enough to make the viewers worry whether he would be able to avoid the wrath of the vengeful spirit. Janet McTeer, as ‘Mrs. Daily’ does complete justice to her role. Ciaran Hinds, as ‘Sam Daily’, has only a few scenes and does not quite make a mark. The others characters are well-cast and deliver decent enough performances.

‘The Woman In Black’ also benefits from a tight screenplay and smart editing (by Jon Harris). The pace of the narrative is deliberately kept slow in the first half of the movie and the film steadily gathers momentum in its post-interval phase. The director, James Watkins, showcases his expertise by ensuring that the film, while delivering the right amount of chills and thrills to the audience, never goes into supernatural excesses (a trap in which most movies of this genre fall prey!). Tim Maurice-Jones, the cinematographer, captures the essence of the bygone Edwardian era quite beautifully in the film. Costumes, by Keith Madden, are detailed and add that extra dash of panache to the movie. Marco Beltrami comes up with a fitting, if somewhat unremarkable, background score.

On the whole, ‘The Woman In Black’ succeeds in delivering the right amounts of scares and frights to the viewers. The movie is a slow-burner and becomes increasingly interesting (and eerie!) as the delightfully spooky events start happening onscreen. Powered by a smart (if somewhat predictable) storyline, sincere performances, smart screenplay and expert direction, ‘The Woman In Black’ is indeed a delight for all those who are fond of horror flicks. The fantastic climax of the film also warrants a special mention.

The ‘Harry Potter’ series might have ended, but Daniel Radcliffe, with ‘The Woman In Black’, ensures that his success story in films keeps rolling on!