The Woman in Black
Directed by James Watkins
The Woman in Black is a good old-fashioned chiller.
Something's not right in a remote English coastal village. The mysterious suicides of three young girls have only compounded the cursed atmosphere. Indeed, it seems children have a hard time staying alive in the village ironically named Nine Lives Causeway.
Enter Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe, proving he has a career beyond the Harry Potter series). He's had his own share of hard times; his wife died during child birth and he's doing his best to simply concentrate and keep his job as a junior solicitor in order to support his son, the love of his dark life. Depressed and facing mounting debt, he's been given one last chance to redeem himself at the office and, unfortunately, the assignment is in that downtrodden village.
While rummaging through the estate paperwork of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow, Arthur encounters a number of creepy, bump-in-the-night ghostly incidents. Outside, he sees a mysterious woman in black. There are other ghosts as well, all of them very, very young.
The Woman in Black is based on Susan Hill's 1983 novel, which in turn became a stage play in England in 1987 before moving to the boards of London's West End in 1989 for a remarkable run that continues to this day.
Set in the early 1900s, there are plenty of classic ghost story elements running through the veins of The Woman in Black. Arthur is sent on an unwittingly deadly assignment upon which his very life, or at least his livelihood, depends. Against the advice of all the local villagers, he spends the night in what the locals have written off as a cursed haunted house.
And, of course, being the outsider, Arthur is seen as an easy source of blame for the latest spate of bad luck running through the village. Go back to London, Arthur. There's nothing for you to see here.
Arthur really has no choice; he has to stay in order to keep his job. Even as he attempts to hold onto his income, though, he also runs the risk of losing his grip on reality. Most importantly, there's the classic deadline, no pun intended. Arthur has to get to the bottom of this ominous woman in black's evil doings before his son arrives for a weekend visit. If not, his son could very well become her next victim.
The Woman in Black works surprisingly well as a PG-13 horror flick. Well, it's really less a traditional, modern “horror” movie and much more a classic ghost story. There's a big difference. Among them, there are no sex-starved teenagers running amuck and cutlery doesn't figure into any of the deaths. In fact, there's nary a drop of blood.
Instead, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night scares dominate the early going and for a while it seems as though that's all The Woman in Black will offer.
But, darn it, as the story unfolds and the woman in black works her curse, the heebie-jeebies set in and hair-raising fun is to be found in the chills skillfully generated under James Watkins' direction.
Watkins is hardly a familiar name. His sole prior directorial feature film effort was Eden Lake in 2008, starring Michael Fassbender, who had a stellar year in 2011 with A Dangerous Method, X-Men: First Class, and Shame. With The Woman in Black, Watkins shows loads of potential as a rising star behind the lens.
Watkins has a great eye for visual flare. In one particularly well-crafted scene, a room full of dolls is made all the more creepy with the simple magic of candle light. As the candle's flame moves by, it illuminates the dolls' faces, giving them the eerie appearance of having moving eyes following the motion of the flame.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.