DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
WOMAN IN BLACK, THE (director/writer: James Watkins; screenwriter: from a novel by Susan Hill/Jane Goldman; cinematographer: Tim Maurice-Jones; editor: Jon Harris; music: Marco Beltrami; cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Arthur Kipps), Ciaran Hinds (Samuel Daily), Janet McTeer (Mrs. Daily), Shaun Dooley (Fisher), Liz White (Jennet Humfrye), Misha Handley (Joseph), Sophie Stuckey (Stella Kipps), Jessica Raine (Nanny), Tim McMullan (Mr. Jerome, local lawyer), Daniel Cerqueira (Keckwick), Alisa Khazanova (Alice Drablow); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Richard Jackson/Simon Oakes/Brian Oliver; CBS Films and Cross Creek Pictures; 2012-UK)

"Radcliffe's only acting challenge is to look always scared."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A stylish creaky Hammer produced British haunted house ghost tale competently directed by James Watkins ("Eden Lake"/"My Little Eye"), but one that takes itself far too seriously since it's all a pack of rubbish, manages to show very little humor and the scares are diminished because they have all been seen before. It stars Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe in his first adult role since completing the popular series, where he stiffly but passably plays a haunted callow young widowed lawyer with a four-year-old son Joseph (Misha Handley). Radcliffe's only acting challenge is to look always scared, which he accomplishes but I can't say that's a great accomplishment in acting. It's based on a 1983 novel by Susan Hill and is written by Jane Goldman, who fills the screen with tried-and-tested old-fashioned scare techniques such as squeaky floorboard noises, doors slamming shut without a reason, the loud cawing of a crow flying inside the house, the appearances of a vengeful ghost and secrets behind locked doors. The novel was previously turned into a successful West End play, running continuously since 1989.

Arthur Kripps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a turn-of-the-20th-century-London widower lawyer, who is still grief-stricken that his beautiful wife (Sophie Stuckey) died at childbirth leaving him alone to raise their now four-year-old son. His stern boss sends him by train to the remote northeastern seaside English village of Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of the deceased eccentric widowed female occupant, Mrs. Alice Drablow, who lived in a secluded rundown mansion by a marsh called the Eel Marsh House. Arthur is sent there because the local lawyer is not cooperative and refuses to check-out the papers left scattered in the house. Arthur is further told if he messes up this task with his usual excuse for not doing the job because he still is mournful, he will get laid off. The grim setting of Eel Marsh House, seemingly always surrounded by a mist, is so secluded that it can't be reached when the tides wash over the road at certain hours.

The only one in town who welcomes Arthur in a friendly manner is the sophisticated richest person in town Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds) and his grief-stricken dotty wife Elizabeth (Janet McTeer), still anguished by the loss of her son. The rational Sam is helpful to Arthur in trying to solve the village mysteries, as he drives the haunted lawyer around in his Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce. The superstitious locals are hostile and want Arthur to return to London, as some are in grief from the mysterious deaths of their children who seemingly killed themselves when possessed. 

Arthur stays alone overnight in his client's darkened haunted house, experiencing all kinds of scares from windup toys suddenly springing into action to dead-eyed dolls appearing, and learns through the found letters his client's eerie family secrets; such as, the lost son taken by his client from her married sister Jennet drowned in the marsh but his body was never found and the sister threatened revenge.

The pic didn't work for me because it was not scary enough, the implausible mystery couldn't sustain my interest and the story was too slight. It only becomes more twisted and contrived, not more lucid, the more the mystery is unraveled. It tries to go beyond the genre's usual successful formulaic way of telling an old-dark-house story, but everything hinges on the viewer being satisfied with this ghost tale because it's so spooky and that it maintains a Gothic atmosphere. But without a good story, just a lot of "boo" moments, the film never gets its most important ingredient right.

REVIEWED ON 2/7/2012       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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