The Woman in Black (2012)

9 Feb

Those familiar with Susan Hill’s 1983 novel The Woman in Black and the ensuing stage adaptation will be au fait with this terrifying tale of death and revenge. Perhaps surprisingly, this haunting story has only been adapted for the screen once before, in the form of a 1989 BBC TV movie and this long overdue big screen adaptation promises much given the involvement of horror veterans Hammer Film Productions.

Hammer and director James Watkins pulled off what some might have perceived as something of a coup by signing up none other than Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, to play the lead Arthur Kipps. This is what is sure to be the first of many forays into uncertain territory for Radcliffe as he looks to distance himself from the looming spectre of Harry, Dumbledore, Hogwarts et al, an unenviable task if there ever was one.

Don't call me HARRY!

Following an eerie prologue that relays the mysterious suicide of three girls, Radcliffe’s Kipps, a fledgling lawyer, is assigned to the unappealing job of settling the estate of a recently deceased loner Alice Drablow, forthwith resident of the decidedly spooky Eel Marsh House. Kipps is intensely lonely and haunted following the death of his wife who died in childbirth, but under pressure to prove himself to his boss and out of unbridled duty to his young son he heads to Eel Marsh.

Greeted with a frosty reception from the mysterious locals who are overwhelmingly suspicious of Kipps’ intentions and are determined to send him on his way, save for the friendly Mr Daily (Ciaran Hinds), he sticks it out, but once Kipps arrives at Eel Marsh things soon take a turn for the terrifying.

The atmospheric washed out colour palette of misty greys and foggy blues quietly envelop the entire picture in a fog of edgy uncertainty and as the jumps and jolts begin in earnest, it’s accompanied by the unnerving tones of off-kilter lullabies.

When you see it you'll shit bricks.

Meanwhile, fleeting glimpses of a woman in black and visions of the death of a boy in the swampy marshes surrounding Eel Marsh suggest supernatural forces are afoot and despite a warning from a seemingly possessed Mrs Daily (Janet McTeer), Kipps continues his work unabated.

It is only when a local girl dies suddenly that the villagers suspect Kipps’ presence might have aroused the spirits. It’s a perfectly chilling and very traditional ghost story and as the mystery unravels and the identity and motive of the woman in black is revealed, Watkins direction instils a palpable sense of tension to proceedings as the wonderfully nerve-wracking denouement plays out.

Radcliffe toils admirably throughout and does his best to appear uneasy, but too often he’s not nearly scared enough given what’s going on around him and his Kipps too often feels one-dimensional. On this basis, Radcliffe still has plenty of work to do if he is to bury Potter’s ghost once and for all.

The Woman in Black is for the most part a faithful and intensely atmospheric interpretation of Hill’s source material and at times it is very frightening and just plain scary. The infamous rocking chair scene is executed with aplomb, whilst there are countless shocks that will encourage audible gasps from the audience. I suspect the version I saw has been cut to allow for a 12A rating as there’s little doubt that this is a very adult horror and whilst far from perfect, The Woman in Black marks the very welcome return of the inherently unsettling and gloomily atmospheric ghost story that Hammer have effectively had locked down since the 1950’s.


(originally featured at


2 Responses to “The Woman in Black (2012)”


  1. THE LOWDOWN WEEK 5 « crash/burn - February 16, 2012

    […] against Fozzie and Animal for the teen dollar is the Daniel Radcliffe vehicle The Woman in Black. This is a moody, atmospheric and very scary ghost story which will satisfy Hammer horror vets just […]

  2. THE LOWDOWN WEEK 9 « crash/burn - March 12, 2012

    […] much the same vein as Hammer’s The Woman in Black, The Raven is a dark, old-fashioned thriller that pits Cusack’s Edgar Allen Poe against a serial […]

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