Title: The Woman in Black
Director: James Watkins (‘Eden’s Lake’)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Liz White (‘Wild Bill’), Alisha Khazanova (‘Heart’s Boomerang’) and Ciaran Hinds (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2’)
Creating an effective horror movie that features an in-depth plot-line and detailed character backgrounds, frightening physical and emotional scares and visually stunning sets can be a monumental challenge for many directors, as they may not have the time and/or resources to include all of these important elements. ‘The Woman in Black,’ the new horror-thriller starring Daniel Radcliffe in his first film after finishing the ‘Harry Potter’ series, unfortunately fails to embody these important aspects. While the film does feature captivating sets and some frightening scares, it doesn’t provide a developed back-story to make it truly memorable.
‘The Woman in Black’ follows young London lawyer Arthur Kipps (played by Radcliffe), who leaves his sickly son Joseph (portrayed by Misha Handley) to travel to the countryside to settle the legal affairs of the recently deceased Alice Drablow (played by Alisa Khazanova). Upon his arrival in her small village, Arthur discovers that following a series of inexplicable accidents and suicides, parents have began locking their children inside to protect them. While the village’s residents, including Mr. Jerome (portrayed by Tim McMullan), the local agent of Arthur’s firm, have asked him not to go to Alice’s home, Eel Marsh House, he travels there anyway. Arthur is determined to finish going through her paperwork, in an effort to protect his job. He receives help from local landowner Sam Daily (played by Ciaran Hinds), whose young son drowned years before.
While at Eel Marsh House, Arthur discovers that Alice’s sister, Jennet Hmfrye (portrayed by Liz White), has returned to the house and village after her death as the menacing title spectre. After seeing her figure, Arthur learns that whenever she makes her presence known, a child is killed, in an effort to avenge the death of her own son, Nathaniel (played by Ashley Foster). Arthur must do whatever it takes to not only save Joseph, but the local children as well, from the woman in black.
‘The Woman in Black’s production designer, Kave Quinn, and set decorator, Niamh Coulter, deserve the most credit for their work on the horror-thriller. The decaying furnishings in, and the decrepit structure of, Eel Marsh House, as well as the gloomy surrounding grounds, perfectly represent the evil and revenge the woman in black has unleashed on the village. From the first time Arthur steps into Eel Marsh House, viewers will undoubtedly feel the pain and suffering Alice suffered there, due to the disarray she left behind. Since Arthur is the outsider who isn’t afraid to search through Alice’s belongings and property to figure out why she has returned from the dead to haunt her town, having him explore the darkened hallways and objects which move by themselves effortlessly added to the film’s overall menacing feeling.
Radcliffe deserves credit for trying to find a film role that will prove he can move past his famous alter-ego, Harry Potter. Unfortunately, Arthur fails in comparison to the character the actor played for 10 years, and has built his career on. ‘The Woman in Black’s screenwriter, Jane Goldman, unfortunately failed to create a lead character with a true back-story for the actor to showcase his talent. Wile Goldman provided the basic information about Arthur’s personal and professional lives, such as his wife, Stella (played by Sophie Stuckey), dying during childbirth, and him needing to successfully organize all of Alice’s paperwork to save his job, the reasoning behind these problems are never revealed. If the script more fully explained the reasoning behind Arthur’s problems, viewers would more easily understand the motivation behind his persistence of finishing the job at Eel Marsh House.
Goldman should have also more fully explained the problems that plagued Alice and Jennet, and the reasoning behind their estrangement in life. Their tumultuous relationship was only hinted at through letters and documents Arthur found in Eel Marsh House, where he discovered that Jennet blamed Alice for having Nathaniel taken away from her. The paperwork also hinted that Jennet was haunting the village because she wasn’t even allowed to see her son, and she wanted all the local parents to understand her feelings of pain. However, there’s no explanation of why Nathaniel was taken away from Jennet, and how Alice was involved, leaving viewers as fully puzzled as Arthur.
‘The Woman in Black’s director, James Watkins, who made his feature film directorial debut with the 2008 horror film ‘Eden Lake,’ did provide several chilling scares in his follow-up effort. There were several instances where Arthur was searching the ground, and the woman in black and the children whose deaths she was responsible for, showed up at unexpected times at Eel Marsh House to scare Arthur. The scares ultimately translated well into electrifying scares for the audience. For example, there’s a scene where Arthur finds a hand print on one of the bedroom windows, and when he goes to touch it, a reflection of the woman in black flickers across the screen.
The frightening and detailed sets Quinn and Coulter created for ‘The Woman in Black’ were the most most memorable aspects of the film, as they created a perfect backdrop for the terrifying story. Watkins was also able to create some electrifying scares in Eel Marsh House that effectively scared Aurthur and viewers alike. Unfortunately, Goldman failed to create detailed, memorable lead characters and plot-line, which if fully explained, would have provided the perfect film for Radcliffe’s first post-‘Harry Potter’ venture.
Written by: Karen Benardello