WOMAN IN BLACK
After losing his wife in childbirth, London solicitor Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is forced to leave his four-year-old son when he has to travel to the remote village of Crythin Gifford to attend to the affairs of the recently deceased owner of Eel Marsh House. On arrival, he quickly discovers the village filled with dark secrets where young children have regularly died in strange circumstances. The mysterious woman dressed in black, who appears in the shadows, clearly has something to do with all the dark events.
Review by Louise Keller:
It is Daniel Radcliffe's pale, heartbroken face that haunts us throughout this spooky early 20th century ghost story in which the fate of young children is uncertain in the isolated small coastal English town of Crythin Gifford. Adapted from Susan Hill's novel, the fictional settings and characters' names go a long way to describe the bleak, desperate mood of the film. The overgrown, desolate Eel Marsh House, situated on Nine Lives Causeway, filled with cobwebs and the stench of death, looks as though it might have been home to Dickens' Miss Havisham.
While the residents of Crythin Gifford are suffering from the loss of youngsters who died in mysterious circumstances after the apparition of a shadowy woman in black, solicitor Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) has been grieving the death of his wife in childbirth for four years. Given one last chance to prove himself to his law office, Kipps leaves his four year son in London, to sort out the affairs of the recently deceased widow who lived in the rambling isolated house.
It is always teaming with rain in Crythin Gifford and after making his way to the grey, muddy, chilly marshlands, Kipps is given an equally chilly reception by the locals. Disconcertingly, he is given the same attic room at the inn, as the one we see in the film's opening scenes, when three little girls' tea party ends in tragedy when they step out of the windows to their deaths, as if possessed.
Ciarán Hinds plays Daily, the solitary friendly local who invites Kipps home for dinner. Memorable for all the wrong reasons, Daily's disturbed wife (Janet McTeer) feeds their twin pooches with spoons from high chairs and draws her latest doomsday prophecy in the dining table woodwork with the blade of her knife. She has not been the same since the loss of their young son years ago.
Director James Watkins (Eden Lake) ably establishes an unsettling mood by using subtle sounds and musical riffs that highlight the stillness of the deserted house. We become wary of the shadows, while the bleakness settles into our psyche. Leaves rustle, there are peculiar noises, a deathly face appears at a window, an eye peers through a keyhole and an empty rocking chair agitates violently. The scene in which Kipps winds up all the musical stuffed animal toys feels bizarre in the circumstances and the cobweb shrouded three wise monkeys with glazed plastic eyes are creepy to the extreme as they hear, see and speak no evil.
Radcliffe, in his first adult role since the Harry Potter franchise concluded, does an excellent job holding the film together, grief pouring from his expressive features. He is in almost in every scene and Watkins uses the close up to create an effective intimacy with his character. Radcliffe's designer stubble however, does not sit comfortably in the context. The fact that Kipps' bride is among the ghosts that haunt the house makes him a participant, not an observer in the house. The tide washing over the long causeway, isolating it for much of the time, adds to the sense of desperation. There's a tense sense of expectancy in the lead up to the climax and the ending is especially well executed, bringing a satisfying conclusion to an effective ghost story.
Interesting to note that on the West End stage, Woman in Black is the second longest running play in history, after Agatha Christie's iconic Mousetrap.
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WOMAN IN BLACK (M)
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciaran Hinds, Sophie Stuckey, Roger Allam, Shaun Dooley, Mary Stockley, Alexia Osborne
PRODUCER: Richard Jackson, Simon Oakes, Brian Oliver
DIRECTOR: James Watkins
SCRIPT: Jane Goldman (novel by Susan Hill)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tim Maurice-Jones
EDITOR: Jon Harris
MUSIC: Marco Beltrami
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kave Quinn
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 17, 2012