Directed by: James Watkins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe
Genre: Supernatural Horror/Suspense Thriller
I've never made it a secret that I can't stand modern horror. Between the endless remakes and bastardizations of beloved franchises (I'm looking at you, Hellraiser: Revelations), this genre that was once my first cinematic love has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. However, in recent years there have been some slight improvements; 2010 was a particularly decent year in horror, between Let Me In (which I listed as one of the 10 best films of that year), The Crazies, and Predators. This brings me to the subject of today's review, James Watkins' marvelous supernatural thriller The Woman In Black.
This is a film that I've been looking forward to for quite some time, ever since hearing about Daniel Radcliffe's casting. I've gone on record saying that Radcliffe is one of the most talented young actors of this generation (that, and he's a guy I would love to just hang out with...seriously, he's just a really cool dude), so I was naturally psyched when it was announced that his first post-Potter project would be a ghost film. However, tragedy struck when the film literally wasn't playing fucking anywhere near me. I was just about to give up and say "Fuck it, I'll wait for the DVD"; just then, my wonderful girlfriend (being the awesome person she is) sent me a link to a site that was streaming the movie for free (internet piracy lives on!). So without any further adieu, here is my review for The Woman In Black.
To start off, the script and atmosphere in this film is absolutely perfect. The scare tactics are completely traditional, harkening back to classic Hammer horror films with little gore, atmospheric settings, and palpable suspense-driven scares. There's a fantastic portion of the movie that lasts for a good 20 or 30 minutes where it's essentially a one-man show, with Radcliffe alone in the house, and it's legitimately frightening, which is something I rarely find myself saying about modern horror films, particularly ones rated PG-13. The film also has a clear inspiration from The Others, another fantastic supernatural suspense thriller, and uses this inspiration with perfection. James Watkins, a relatively unknown director, was able to take directorial cues from both that film and classic Hammer films to deliver a modern ghost tale with apperant ease.
But it wouldn't be the film it is without the performances, most notably Daniel Radcliffe's. Radcliffe is the glue that hold the film together; at first he seems a tad too young for the role (his character has a 3 year old kid, and he still sounds like a teenager), but his performance is so convincing, so raw, that it makes you look past it almost immediately. This character is a complete 180 from playing Harry Potter; Arthur Kipps is a very tragic character, a depressed widower trying to piece his life together by holding on to the one last string of joy he has: his son. Radcliffe apperently met with people who suffered from depression to prepare himself for this role, and it really does show in his performance. He portrays depression so realistically, so convincingly, it makes you want to actually find him in real life and give him a "feel better" hug. Ciaran Hinds also gives a delightful performance as always, giving true emotion and depth to a character that easily could have been written off as bland and stockish.
Overall, The Woman In Black is a marvelous horror film, and a welcome sendback to the days of horror when ghost films were more than soulless cash-cows. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for studios to put more stock into traditional horror films with actual substance; if not, then this will be remembered as a sole becon of light in an otherwise forgettable age for the horror genre.