The trick to making a good horror film is to tease the audience — show the elongated shadows on the walls, play the creaks and moans in the woodwork. Fill in a creepy soundtrack; sudden jarring noises; a stupid but lovable and brave hero or heroine and the imagination will fill in the rest.
This is why director James Watkins’ new film “The Woman in Black” works. Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, “The Woman in Black” follows single father Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young, widowed lawyer who lost his wife (Sophie Stuckey) in childbirth four years ago. Kipps’ job sends him from London to Crythin Gifford to settle the paperwork of the late Dablow family of Eel Marsh House, when he discovers the secret behind the mysterious woman in black (Liz White).
Like any true Gryffindor, the Harry Potter star tries to overcomes his legacy as the boy-who-lived by confronting new ghosts head-on. Radcliffe looks vulnerable and sometimes child-like while wandering alone in the dark, dwarfed by the sinister crevices of the Eel Marsh House. Radcliffe’s big blue eyes and past tenure as the lovable Harry Potter adds to the audience’s sympathy when his character approaches a long darkened corridor or greets violent thumping noises behind closed doors.
But his tender scenes with his adorable, real-life godson, Misha Handley, who plays Radcliffe’s four-year-old son, Joseph Kipps, separates him from his wizard, silver screen counterpart. The scenes between Radcliffe and Handley are endearing and genuine, such as when Joseph presents Arthur with stick-figure drawings of the two (Radcliffe’s stick figure sports a prominent frown). While the film does play up the father/son relationship at times by reminding Radcliffe that he has a son to go home to and featuring the pale faces of other little girls and boys, the acting is believable, taking the film beyond the average cheap horror film and making it more comparable to Juan Antonio Bayona’s 2007 Spanish mystery thriller “The Orphanage” — a film which also features beautiful outdoor scenery, elaborate spooky interior house décor and children.
“The Woman in Black” shows how palpable death is among both the young and old — lingering in cobwebs, gravestones, shadows and the pale faces of the children and superstitious townspeople of Crythin Gifford. The new adaption of “The Woman in Black” is designed to keep you tense in your seats and your children close.