The Woman in Black (15)
Some good old-fashioned jolts permeate this creepy little film, a throwback to the glory days of Hammer horror that is as memorable and effective as the best that Messrs Cushing and Lee had to offer.
Oozing with menace, The Woman in Black preys on man’s oldest fears: the dark, and of the long dead lying fitfully in the moist earth. It has a malevolence that is palpable and benefits from the casting of Daniel Radcliffe as grieving husband Arthur Kipps, who is thrust into a nightmare of epic proportions.
Arthur is sent north from London to wrap up the affairs of an elderly woman, recently deceased. His arrival in the isolated village of Crythin Gifford is greeted with suspicion by wary locals. Soon Arthur discovers why: the old house, the village and its inhabitants are plagued by a spectre – the mysterious woman in black – that is responsible for the deaths of several children.
One of the strengths of The Woman in Black is Radcliffe, who can do little but react to the world around him: to sounds, hands on doors, faces at windows and that dread combination of evil and vengeance. He, like the watching audience, is desperate to find out the truth. He gets little help from the villagers, who all know more than they are telling. Even his friend Daily (Ciarán Hinds) warns him: “Don’t go chasing shadows, Arthur.”
The gradual build-up of terror marks out The Woman in Black as a prime slice of English gothic. There is enough remaining of Susan Hill’s original to satisfy purists whilst Hammer aficionados – the film is a Hammer production – will recognise the retrospective mood, vibe and atmosphere of those far-off days.
And it’s scary. Director James (Eden Lake) Watkins and screenwriter Jane (Kick-Ass) Goldman have sought to retain the quintessentially Victorian essence of the tale. It matters not that some of the dialogue – and Radcliffe’s performance – is rooted in the present.
Setpiece scenes include Arthur’s arrival in the village (shot in Halton Gill, near Skipton), a dinner with Janet McTeer as Daily’s mad wife and the recovery of a corpse from a swamp. Cumulatively it makes for one of the most frightening British films of the past 30 years.
If Hammer wanted to push up the coffin lid, it has succeeded with The Woman in Black. This augurs well for the company’s future – and for the wholesale resurrection of a brand that, once upon a time, was one of British cinema’s biggest exports. Bravo.