In terms of quality, this horror film adaptation of the 1983 novel The Woman in Black is neither black, nor white, but shades of grey. On the one hand, the film is easy to soak in visually because of the great cinematography and production values. On the other, thanks to run-of-the-mill scare tactics, which eschew fear for shock value, it seems unable to stand out of the crowd.
The film tells the tale of solicitor, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) whose beloved wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey) died during childbirth, leaving him to care for his four-year-old boy, Joseph (Misha Handley). On top of the pressure of being a single parent, Arthur is also under stress from his employers, who send him to a small town to handle a troubled estate. Upon arrival, Arthur is shocked to discover that the children of the town are mysteriously committing suicide, and is met with hostility from the locals, who blame his investigations into the estate which they believe to be haunted. While conducting his investigations, Kipps finds unlikely allies in landowner Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), and his spouse Elizabeth (Janet McTeer), a couple that are more deeply involved in the mysterious events, than they realise. Eventually, Arthur’s resolve meets the ultimate test, when his own son, Joseph, becomes entangled in the events.
Radcliffe delivers a fine performance, though one must question his attempts to break out of the Harry Potter persona and not be typecast since he stars in a film where he must battle an evil creature of supernatural origins. One must also question Radcliffe’s decision to play a hero who is as dim-witted as they come in the horror genre: It takes Arthur Kipps the entire movie to discover what the spirit haunting the house desires, when it was fairly obvious from the very beginning. Not only that, but he constantly puts himself at risk by doing things like staying alone overnight in a house that is clearly haunted, running into buildings that are on fire when no one else is willing, and smashing into empty locked rooms, from where he can hear loud and scary noises. Perhaps someone forgot to tell Kipps that he is merely a common solicitor, and not a wizard who had just slain Voldermort.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 4th, 2012.
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