{2jtab: Movie Review}

The Woman in Black - Movie Review


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3 stars

With the release of The Woman in Black, director James Watkins addresses three particularly hot topics that have been searing the brainpans of we movie fans of late. First, will the film aid the re-launch of Hammer Film Productions, which had its heyday from the mid-1950s to the 1970s when its “Gothic Horror” films dominated the cinematic landscape with such timeless horror classics as Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein and with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in full monster garb.

Secondly, does Daniel Radcliffe stand a fair shake at shedding the Harry Potter wand in favor of a more well-rounded body of work? Or is he doomed to the same fate of Max Baer, Jr, who became unrelentingly pigeonholed as The Beverly Hillbillies’ doltish Jethro Bodine… and was never able to shed the typecast, despite a career of attempts?

The answer to the first two questions is a resounding “yes.” And we’ll take a look at the third in a moment. But first, let’s get to what this thing is about.

Based on the Susan Hill novel – now some thirty years old – The Woman in Black follows the TV movie, radio series, and a play that came before it. But unlike those mediums, the film version would face an uphill battle from the get-go with its attempt at taking on the well-worn persona of a horror “genre” picture which, as we all know, wields a hit or miss – mostly miss – track record of success.

Watkins, from a script by X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass writer Jane Goldman, takes liberties with Hill’s body count and pays homage to period horror films with the story about a female ghost killing children to avenge the loss of her son. Watkins also adorns his film with some of the same spooky effects used by the Japanese in such films as The Grudge and Ringu.

Daniel Radcliffe (sans spectacles but sporting a dapper stubble) is Arthur Kipps, a London-based solicitor employed to settle the affairs of a since deceased woman who lived in the remote English village of Crythin Gifford. Immediately upon his arrival in the bog-surrounded town, the wet-behind-the-ears Kipps is met with an oppressive sense of unwelcome, from the scowling innkeeper who lost Kipps's reservation and puts him up in the hotel’s spooky attic, to the unfriendly townspeople who don’t take kindly to outsiders. And through force of habit or having learned a grim lesson the hard way, mothers quickly whisk their children beneath their aprons or into their homes at the site of the stranger’s visage.

But the house, fittingly named Eel Marsh House is the star of the show. It’s a very brooding place with its Jacobian gables and ivy-covered walls that give it an incredibly evil look. One look and we know the house is hiding something. It’s here where Kipps finds himself spending the night to fumble through the late keeper’s mounds of paperwork, and where he discovers the woman in black (Liz White) who emerges, gliding down the hallway or quickly slinking from view in the manor’s cemetery. Hell-bent on revenging the loss of her son, the woman remains focused on killing the town’s children, which adds an extra layer of dread to Kipps, who is also struggling with being separated from his son, Joseph (Misha Handley).

The inside of the house is just as creepy as its inhospitable exterior with a decrepit ant trail of long, dimly lit hallways and cob-webbed nooks and crannies with wind-up toys or scary clown dolls that populate darkened rooms behind closed doors. We know something - or someone - can be hiding around any corner, and Watkins plays to this effect superbly. Sure, there are any number of prerequisite loud bangs and slamming doors (but fortunately no horror sentinel cats) that practically define the genre, but it's what we don’t see that is used to maximum effect here.

In fact, this brings us to the third burning question Watkins answers with his The Woman in Black: can a horror film bearing the scarlet letter of a PG-13 rating still scare the bejeebers out of a well-seasoned audience that has been practically raised on a steady diet of modern horror films? Again the answer is yes. Though some of the special effects become a bit repetitive through the film’s middle section, the bravery of the filmmakers should be commended for allowing numerous long stretches of the film to unfold with no dialogue. Watkins utilizes the tried-and-true, but so often ignored, mantra of “less is more” to maximum effect with The Woman in Black. Spooky horror has certain requirements to be effective and Watkins nails them throughout the film with style and elegance. The veiled titular femme fatale is as elusive as a yeti, briefly seen in a window, then suddenly gone upon our next glance. Something just moved in the corner of the frame, but we’re not sure what. What was that in the reflection of the mirror?

Fortunately too, Watkins avoids most of the modern day genre trappings, replacing gore and thirst for blood with period style and a Polanski-esque sense of looking through doorways and half seeing things. The blanks in what we don’t see are filled in with our imagination, and with things far more terrifying and creepy than could ever be shown on film. A good ghost story comes from what we can’t quite see – what’s in the corner and the margins – and to that effect, the makers of The Woman in Black have hammered out a truly frightening genre pic that gets the resurrected film company headed in the right direction, proves that for Daniel Radcliffe there’s life beyond Hogwarts, and forever invalidates the belief that scary movies need an R-rating to make viewers soil the upholstery.

{2jtab: Film Details}

The Woman in Black - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images.
: James Watkins
: Jane Goldman
Daniel Radcliffe' Janet McTeer; Ciarán Hinds; Sophie Stuckey
Genre: Horror
What did they see?
Memorable Movie Quote: "During afternoon tea, there's a shift in the air"
CBS Films
Official Site:
Release Date: February 3, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

Synopsis: While taking care of a deceased client's estate, a young lawyer encounters a mysterious woman dressed in black and uncovers a tragic secret.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

The Woman in Black - Movie Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
3 stars

4 stars

Blu-ray Experience
3.5 Stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - May 22, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English, English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); UV digital copy
Encoding: Locked to Region A

Sony delivers another solid transfer with The Woman in Black in spite of some dodgy looking fog effects from time to time. The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image co appears well-textured and film-like, with decent grain working in unison to support the period costumes and setting. Fine detail levels are plentiful, and every leaf on every spooky tree outside of the manor appears in sharp clarity. The color scheme rides the dull side of the palette, but the impressive production design the darkness of the film with great detail in appearance. Black levels are inky with minimal crush in shadows and have great contours. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track has more jumps in it than a gymnastic routine.  The jolts are loud and a bit jittery, but effective nonetheless.  Dialogue is never compromised for the sakes of a couple of cheap scares and the range is pretty expansive making this a good immersive experience.



  • Director James Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman speak easy about their relationship and discuss what it took to bring the book to the screen.  They also talk in lengths about some of the atmospheric shots and about wanting to scare audiences without blood.

Special Features:

Sony adds on two featurettes to round out the release.  With the first, Inspire the Perfect Thriller, interviews with Radcliffe and Watkins along with other cast members work to provide insight into the direction the film took.  They also discuss the location and how one real manor was made to look in ruins and neglected.  The other, No Fear, features Radcliff discussing his role.

  • Inspire the Perfect Thriller: Making the Woman in Black (10 min)
  • No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps (4 min)

{2jtab: Trailer}