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. Most importantly, the movie marks the return of the Hammer Films imprint. As a lineal descendant of elegant Brit-horror celluloid like The Brides of Dracula and Night Creatures, The Woman in Black is a worthy addition, a movie that successfully maintains an expansive sense of dread thanks to 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 from such familiar material, 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 during childbirth. Kipps is told by a less-than-sympathetic boss to get his little lawyer ass to a remote village to sort out the paperwork of a recently deceased client. Problem: 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 the 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 ghost buster and lay the spirit to rest, perhaps in an effort to come to terms with his own haunted past.

The storyline advances in predictable fashion, but even so, it’s a reliably good yarn that crackles like a fresh log on the fire. Rather than recall vintage Hammer stock, I was pleasantly 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 causes me to dissolve into hysterical laughter whenever I picture it in my head: Kipps hits upon the outré idea of recovering the body of the young boy who drowned in the marsh, lo those many years ago. So he and his friend Mr. Daily (Ciarán Hinds) head to the marsh—in the middle of the night. Once there, Kipps gamely splashes around underwater near the boy’s grave marker until he finds the muddy little bugger. I would just like to ask director James Watkins and writers Susan Hill (based on her novel) and Jane Goldman: Who in the hell (other than a none-too-bright mental patient) would entertain such a half-baked, outlandish scheme for even a fraction of a moment? Nobody, that’s who, and certainly not a clever boy wizard.

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