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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 03:32 am

Radcliffe Effective in Woman in Black


Now comes the hard part for Daniel Radcliffe. With the Harry Potter series at the end, the young man is now faced with making the transition to successful adult actor. Choosing smart scripts that will help allow him to expand his talents while not alienating his fans is the key. Otherwise, signing autographs at Potter conventions as a middle-age has-been will be the fate he’s doomed to and no amount of magic will be able to save him.

His latest, The Woman in Black, is a good first step. Based on the novel by Susan Hill, director James Watkins has created a good old-fashioned gothic horror tale heavy on atmosphere brought to life by a cast that’s able to create just the right amount of dread and foreboding. While it does overdo things at times as far as in your face scares needlessly punctuated by screeching sound cues, there’s no question the film delivers the sort of scares that will have audiences nervous about entering dark rooms for a few days after seeing it.

Radcliffe is Arthur Kipps, a widower with a 4 year-old son who is on the verge of losing his position at the firm where he’s employed. Given one last chance to prove himself, the young solicitor is sent to the small town of Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of Alice Drabow, a recently deceased client. What he’s not told is that the village has been haunted for years by a horrific woman in black and that there has been a rash of tragic deaths, all involving children. Equally unsettling is the fact that Kipps must do the bulk of his work at Eel Marsh House, the deceased client’s mansion which is in complete disarray and is cut off each day and evening when the tide comes in, isolating him from the village.

That there is a connection with the title specter and the deceased woman comes as no surprise but the back story in which this is revealed does contain some intriguing twists and turns. Equally effective is the house where Kipps ends up trapped, an example of exemplary production design. Rot and decay have overtaken this home and all that’s left are dark memories and broken hopes, all of which Kipps uncovers. A true feeling of dread overtakes the movie when the action moves here, all rendered in the best Hammer Films manner which set the standard for stylistic horror in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. This is a solid genre exercise, the first done by the studio in 35 years and shows they’re intent on continuing the tradition started five decades ago.

Though Radcliffe is too young for the role, the sense of mourning and slowly dawning dread he brings to the role has us firmly in his corner, hoping Kipps will be able to avoid the film’s inevitable climax. He’s ably supported by Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer as a couple still mourning their own son, while Watkins keeps things properly taut over the film’s 95 minutes especially when Kipps is required to spend a long night alone in haunted manor and witnesses the resurrection of a key character from the marsh, a chill-inducing moment that will jolt even the most jaded horror aficionado. Moments such as these will not only please those who fondly remember the Hammer movies of old but may win over some new fans as well.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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