Directed by James Watkins. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer. 120 minutes. 14A
I don’t read horror movie reviews and I don’t believe horror movie hype. Good or bad, they make me sceptical. Unless it’s coming from a horror buff, I don’t feel horror is taken seriously enough. The capabilities of the genre, the storytelling, the styling, the characterisation… It’s all often ignored when it’s got the “horror” label on it.
This movie’s been generating hype since it was announced, though largely thanks to Potterheads-turned-Radcliffe-fans, but also because the general public was interested to see if he had acting chops beyond the 8-part epic series. And although I avoid the reviews, once the film was out, it was tough to shield myself from hearing that it was being received pretty decently (for horror), so I was, as usual, sceptical. Compounded by the fact that this was the horror movie I’d most been looking forward to all year, heading the theatres was a nervous venture. But it ended up being more than I expected.
Set at the turn of the 20th century (as much good horror lit is), the story follows widower and lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) as he works on the case of Alice Drablow’s estate, Eel Marsh, a creepy mansion on a hill surrounded entirely by water when the tides rise. He travels ahead while his son and nanny plan to meet him in a few days. However, when he arrives in in the new town to begin his work, he’s greeted by folklore, that a woman in black haunts Eel Marsh and has plagued the entire town with a curse.
In a one-word review, this movie is creepy. It’s possibly the creepiest movie I’ve ever seen. And if you think the trailer is any indication of the creepiness in this movie, think again, because it gets even creepier. Much of this creepiness owes to the time and setting: old musical toys, a creaky and withered house, frail hand-written letters, tattered black and white photos. But it’s also the genuine horror of it all: quick glimpses of darkened faces, silently nearing of shadows, shattering screeches. It’s all gorgeously styled to give you goosebumps.
The cast is small and nothing without Radcliffe, who proves to be much more than a boy wizard. Although it is tough to picture him as a father, and the distant relationship doesn’t help, a reminder of movie’s era lets it pass (a time when parenting itself seemed distanced).
With a great, chilling back story from the legend’s incarnation to the havok wreaked on the townspeople for years, combined with its creepiness and beautiful styling, The Woman in Black makes for what I’m sure will be on the best horrors of the year. A