The Woman in Black – or Daniel Radcliffe Looking at Things

The thing I like about going to the cinema is that, for a precious couple of hours, one can forget all about one’s own troubles and absorb oneself completely in the trials and tribulations of someone else. Stress levels seem to have increased steadily since the start of the year and life seems to have reached something of a fever pitch, and in such situations it takes a deeply creepy movie to make one forget, momentarily, about the world outside. The Woman in Black certainly fitted the bill this evening.

I should start by saying that I haven’t read the book – so I’m approaching the film from the point of view of someone who doesn’t know the story. I have, however, read (and studied) another Susan Hill novel, I’m the King of the Castle, and I recognised some of the themes from that equally unsettling novel cropping up in The Woman in Black – things like the ominous crow, the unnerving scenes in the woods, the alarming use of the colour red in a film which has purposefully been shot with a grey filter to heighten the grimness. Susan Hill is masterful at creating a creepy atmosphere, and I thought they’d done a good job of translating that to screen – with the help of some old horror classics: a haunting score, cobwebs, heavy rain, thick fog, and of course a liberal helping of exceptionally creepy dolls and stuffed animals.

The Woman in Black tells the story of a young widower (Daniel Radcliffe) who’s sent to sort through the papers of a recently deceased woman, whose house – or someone lurking in it – is at the centre of a chilling series of incidents in which local children meet violent deaths under mysterious circumstances. In an inspired plot device, the house is located on an island deep in perilous marshes, and is only accessible at low tide – creating a feeling of true, haunting isolation that only an island can truly evoke. In a way it’s just a classic haunted house/ghost story, but it does a good job of creating suspense and I spent a hefty proportion of the film with goosebumps, feeling chilled to the bone! I don’t really go in for scary films as a general rule and I’d say this is the scariest I’ve seen. It was definitely a lot scarier than The Others.

This is Daniel Radcliffe’s first film since the epic culmination of the Potter adaptations, and it’s clear that he’s matured a lot as an actor. I did find it slightly implausible that he’s supposed to be a married father of a four-year-old, but he was actually pretty good. The friend I went with said that someone had described the film to him as “Daniel Radcliffe looking at things”, which is a reasonable assessment, as extended sequences are devoted to Radcliffe creeping nervously about the house, well, looking at things. This flippant summary belies the film’s genuine creepiness, though, and it was difficult to forget about it as I drove home through patches of thick fog and dark woods…

I was pleased to find that the dashing Ciaran Hinds was also in it, in a supporting role. I last saw him as a devastatingly attractive Julius Caesar in the HBO series Rome, and although this was a very different role, he nevertheless conveyed the same gravitas and was a pleasing addition to the cast.

This is a deeply chilling film but I would recommend seeing it, even if you think scary films aren’t really your thing. As a piece of cinema it’s actually pretty good, and the plot is undeniably gripping. Finally, the ending took me by surprise, and I like it when endings do that.