Also known as Harry Potter and the Angry Mother’s Ghost.
OK, I made that up, but The Woman in Black is noteworthy for reasons other than the presence of Daniel Radcliffe.
The movie marks the return of the Hammer Films imprint. As a lineal descendant of stately Brit-horror celluloid like The Brides of Dracula and Night Creatures, The Woman in Black is a worthy addition, with an expansive sense of dread invoked by proper gothic storytelling.
True, it comes rattling with haunted house tropes that are as well worn as Jacob Marley’s chains, but my admiration for its almost-gentlemanly ability to coax scares remains undiminished.
Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a morose young attorney with a broken heart, who apparently has been slacking on the job after the death of his wife. Kipps is told by a less-than-sympathetic boss to get his lawyer ass to a remote village to sort out the paperwork of a recently deceased client.
Problem 1: The villagers remove the welcome mat upon his arrival.
Problem 2: The paperwork resides at Eelmarsh House, a decaying mansion that appears to be sinking into a swamp.
Problem 3: The house is fiercely haunted by the ghost of a woman who lost her son due to the negligence of the house’s previous occupants.
Problem 4: Whenever the ghost gets restless, village children start dying.
Problem 5: The ghost is restless now, so Kipps takes it into his head to play ghostbuster and lay the spirit to rest, perhaps in an effort to come to terms with his own tragic past.
The storyline advances in predictable fashion, but even so, it’s a reliable yarn that crackles like a fresh log on the fire. Rather than recalling vintage Hammer stock, I was reminded of The Changeling with George C. Scott; a familial tragedy with a supernatural revenge motif that’s told earnestly, but with skill and vigor.
However, I must point out one incredible scene that makes me wonder what director James Watkins and writer Susan Hill (based on her novel) were smoking at lunch break.
Kipps hits upon the outré idea of recovering the body of the young boy who drowned in the marsh, in an attempt to appease the pissed-off apparition.
So he and his friend Mr. Daily (Ciarán Hinds) go gamely splashing around underwater near the boy’s grave marker until they find and retrieve the muddy little bugger from his aquatic resting place.
For some reason, this sequence reminds me of poor Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster, forced to wrestle with an inanimate octopus in a cold tank of water.
I would just like to ask Watkins and Hill, who in the hell would ever entertain such an outlandish scheme for even a moment? Nobody, that’s who, and certainly not a clever young wizard.