The Woman in Black (CBS Films)
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Sophie Stuckey, Liz White, Alisa Khasanova.
Written by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill.
Directed by James Watkins.
If you were wondering what kind of career awaits Daniel Radcliffe in his post Harry Potter life, look no further than this week's release of The Woman in Black, scary adaptation of Susan Hill's novel. But just because Radcliffe's character is English and rides a steam train across the English countryside from London to a remote castle-like mansion, don't think The Woman in Black is anything like the lovable wizard movies we've all become accustomed to. The Woman in Black is a dark, frightening horror movie with disturbing themes.
In short: You aren't in Hogwarts, anymore, Muggles.
Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a London widower and single father whose wife passed away delivering the couple's only son. Arthur is also a solicitor (lawyer) assigned to settle the estate of a the Drablow family, who have all passed away without any heirs. When Arthur arrives in the small town, he is met by hostile town folk who attempt to usher him right back out of town. Fearing for his career, Arthur presses on and demands to be taken to the Drablow Manor, which is situated on an island accessible only in during low tide on the outskirts of the village. The only local resident who is cordial to Arthur is Sam Daly Ciaran Hinds), the only other wealthy person in the area. Sam and his wife (Janet McTeer) are still mourning the loss of their son more than 20 years earlier.
Speaking of dead children, there are quite a few of them in the small English hamlet, most of whom committed suicide, and all of whom took their lives after any sighting of the ghost of a woman dressed in black who haunts the town. When Arthur arrives at Drablow Manor, he spots the woman, and kids start killing themselves again (making The Woman in Black the 'feel-good' child suicide movie of the year).
As Arthur digs deeper into the secrets of Drablow Manor, he discovers the awful truth of the Woman in Black and her motives for inspiring kids to kill themselves. As Arthur learns even more, he and Sam try to remedy the cause of the Woman's pain by bringing closure to the reality of her own son's death in the swamps near Drablow Manor.
The Woman in Black is a scary movie with lots of disturbing images involving children and their violent deaths. It's also chock full of things that go bump in the night and blind reveals that cause you to jump out of your seat as the music stings out loud (like you KNOW the scary ghost is going to pop out of nowhere at anytime, but you're still surprised when she does). While the frights come often and effectively, most of them are gimmicky with substantial fake-outs leading up to the truly disturbing stuff.
The real problem with The Woman in Black is the resolution of the story (also much different than the book), which comes in the form of a bizarre, cheap, abrupt open-ended finale left me wondering what the darned point was.
As for Radcliffe, he'll do just fine without the lightning bolt scar on his forehead. His performance in The Woman in Black may not make everyone forget about Harry Potter, but the mature and dark material should get him on his way to adult roles. It's not exactly a great performance either, but it's adequate for the mood of the film. Even so, I thought Radcliffe perhaps played the part a little too deadpan, and should have probably been a little more freaked out than his portrayal suggests.
One more thing: If you have any thoughts of bringing preteens to this movie, think again. The Woman in Black is NOT for kids, as if the mere mention of child suicide wasn't enough to convince you already. The presence of Radcliffe does not mean kids should see this film, even if your 11-year-old begs you to see the new 'movie with Harry Potter in it.'