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Arthur Kipps is a lawyer who is forced to leave his young son and travel to a remote village to attend to the affairs of the recently deceased owner of Eel Marsh House. Working alone in the old mansion, Kipps begins to uncover the town’s tragic and tortured secrets and his fears escalate when he discovers that local children have been disappearing under mysterious circumstances. When those closest to him become threatened by the vengeful woman in black, Kipps must find a way to break the cycle of terror...
To me, the most disturbing thing about The Woman in Black is how shallow a tale it actually is when you break it down. Without spoiling anything the plot is: Dead woman = miserable ghost who kills the children in the local village. A stranger comes to town and tries to right the wrongs of the past. The end. Well, almost.
Ignoring the paper thin plot, what we have here is a tense, beautifully shot movie that flies by at a break-neck speed. It's only when you start digging that you realise it's a miracle that the whole movie manages to stand up at all.
Daniel Radcliffe is well cast in the role of Arthur Kipps. Not only do you totally forget that he ever played Harry Potter (in all honesty he actually reminded me more of Hugh Jackman than the boy wizard), but what is even more remarkable is the fact that he spends most of the movie on his own - and a great deal of that not talking. In fact, there's a segment of the film where no one talks for about 20 minutes. Sounds odd, but until it's actually pointed out to you you don't really notice. The film only works if you become attached to Kipps, and believe in his character and the events that surround him. Radcliffe comes across as a a very likeable and believable Kipps.
Equally, Ciarán Hinds are well cast as Sam and Janet McTeer, who befriend Kipps when the villagers turn against them. There's a deep tragic side to their characters which is beautifully played.
Director James Watkins is like a conjurer with his constant use of misdirection in order to throw you off balance and make sure that you jump out of your skin in all the right places. Although I have to confess that I thought that a few of the effects felt a little much like those old Internet virals - one in particular where you are asked to stare at a a picture of a strange room and see if you can spot the ghost - and then after about a minute a screaming ghost of a long haired woman appears and flies towards the screen.
This is the first movie from the revamped Hammer Studios and it's a great start. Hopefully this will be the first in a long line of Hammer branded horror movies - it's actually the first "ghost" story Hammer has ever produced.
I previously reviewed Marco Beltrami's original score for the movie, and while I still stand by my original view that it doesn't work quite so well in isolation, it is its own character in the movie. Thankfully its never used to signpost erie moments - in fact silence is used well in this movie to creepy effect. And the main theme beautifully echoes Kipps's melancholia.
Extras include an audio commentary with director James Watkins and screen writer Jane Goldman (Mrs Jonathan Ross, if you must) It was interesting to have the scenes pointed out where the director placed hidden ghosts - even if I still couldn't see most of them); Inside the Perfect Thriller: Making the Woman in Black (9 min, 31 sec behind the scenes featurette); No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps (4 min, 03 sec look at Radcliffe in the character); Interviews with James Watkins & Jane Goldman (4 min, 27 sec); Interview with Daniel Radcliffe (3 min, 25 sec); The Woman in Black Red Carpet Special (22 min, 33 sec); Ghost Story Competition (2 min, 31 sec in which Radcliffe reads a short ghost story. There's no indication of what the original competition was though); Theatrical Trailer (1 min, 35 sec); 2 x Teaser Trailers (1 min, 52 sec); 4 x Photo Galleries which cover 'Behind the Scenes', 'Film Stills', Production Design' and 'Storyboard'.
Yes the story is cliched, and hardly the most original tale ever produced, but Radcliffe elevates an average movie into something you'll really enjoy. Creepy and eerie, The Woman in Black is also a beautifully produced film.