Movie review: The Woman in Black

By Columbus Alive
From the February 2, 2012 edition

It must be a scary task for Daniel Radcliffe, emerging from the shadow of a role that may always define him.

But the actor’s first film after wrapping up “Harry Potter” is an interesting choice, an old-fashioned funhouse ride of a horror movie that may leave audiences too scared to remember the boy wizard.

Is “The Woman in Black” derivative? Sure. Is it cerebral? Not particularly. But is it scary? Oh, yeah.

Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a young lawyer still coming to terms with his young wife’s death during childbirth. His firm tasks him with journeying to a remote English village to sort the affairs of a recently deceased client.

The townsfolk are anything but welcoming to Arthur, and he soon finds himself in the client’s isolated (read: creepy) house.

There he begins to uncover the town’s dark secrets. Oh, and he spots a mysterious woman dressed in black.

Soon, children are turning up dead under mysterious circumstances, and Arthur’s isolation turns more and more terrifying.

Director James Watkins isn’t exactly blazing new ground here. He’s blending some classic haunted house scares with the more recent tricks of Japanese supernatural thrillers (and their countless American remakes).

But, hey, it’s highly effective and joyfully pulse-pounding.

The script — adapted from Susan Hill’s 1983 novel by “Kick-Ass” scribe Jane Goldman — is nicely paced. It’s patient enough to set a tone of impending dread that really greases the wheels for the scares that come late.

Watkins’ bag of tricks is tried and true, but he uses them effectively. From the foggy and bleak English countryside to shots lit in eerie candlelight, he makes the most of it.

Perhaps there are a few too many instances of the camera slowly panning into a room as we wait for a scary reveal, but the false starts set up the real scares delightfully.

As for Radcliffe, this is a nice first step out of Potterland. The stoicism and sense of dread he works here were surely honed in the later “Potter” films. It’s not a huge leap, but it’s a start.

Bottom line: We go to scary movies to be scared, for that collective adrenaline rush, for those group screams followed by nervous laughter. The wonderfully creepy “Woman in Black” delivers this.