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The Woman in Black: Hardly Horrifying at all

February 17, 2012

If you’re used to viewing the Daniel Radcliffe who is often helped out by the various sociable ghosts of Hogwarts, The Woman in Black may not be the movie for you. In his first appearance since the decade of a comfort zone implanted in the Harry Potter movie series, Radcliffe steps out as a character with a much more innocent past than the Boy who Lived and an even greater sense of enigma surrounding his future.

This Victorian-themed thriller/horror/drama, based on the novel by Susan Hill, tells the story of Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a widowed lawyer who has been asked to travel to settle the estate of a woman. Because the woman has left her house in shambles with much recovery work to be done, it makes the task a business trip for Kipps, who must leave his four-year-old son behind as he travels to Crythin Gifford. In the midst of sorting through the paperwork of the Eel Marsh House, Kipps finds that he is being shunned and even receiving offensive remarks from the townspeople. What he soon finds out after his first night at the Eel Marsh House, which like any haunted house remains miles outside the main town, is that the woman has been haunting the house and people of Crythin Gifford for several years. Every time the woman, who herself had lost a young child, is sighted, a child living in town dies a horrible death.

Having recently lost his wife and on the verge of losing his job, Kipps continues to return to the house daily in order to settle the estate efficiently but also to find closure in his own life through the visions of the woman, her child and eventually his own wife. He begins to see glimpses of the ghostly woman who, at one point, replays her suicide for him. The more time he spends at the house, the more Kipps becomes mystified with its history of death and the more children begin to yield to death. One purposely drinks lye, while another willingly sets herself on fire—both are held under the woman’s spell in these apparent suicidal acts.

Director James Watkins, well-known for his horror film Eden Lake, cast Radcliffe well, but seems to only rely on Radcliffe’s facial acting rather than giving him long sets of dialogue. Yet this tactic works in a film that uses silence as its main source of suspense. As the movie progresses, Watkins employs jolting, loud, in-your-face methods to horrify his audience.  This approach is rather predictable and teeters on being annoying by the time the end of the movie draws near.

Perhaps one of the most chilling aspects of this Victorian thriller is its historically accurate, yet surprisingly unnatural-looking, china dolls and stuffed animals placed within the bedrooms of Eel Marsh House. Watkins frequently gives the audience flashes of these throughout several ominous segments and we get a sense that even the innocent, childish playthings are out to get Kipps, too.

Although there were not as many twists and turns as expected in a horror flick, The Woman in Black makes up for the lack of surprises with a rather warped “happy ending.”

Meg Grzenia
Contributing Writer

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