Welcome back, Hammer Films!
Yep, it’s good to see you again. Hammer Films, the company which made stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the 1950s and 1960s, and made quality horror movies until the mid-1970s when they went out of business, is back making movies again. The company has followed up its entertaining vampire movie LET ME IN (2010), a remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) with the ghost story movie THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012), now available on Blu-ray, starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.
In THE WOMAN IN BLACK, Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young London lawyer at the dawn of the 20th century, a single dad who’s still grieving over the death of his wife. Kipps is sent to the village of Cryphin Gifford to settle the estate of a woman Alice Drabow who had recently passed away.
Once there, he receives the cold shoulder from the villagers, as they pretty much tell him to turn around and go back, but Kipps tells them that he’s there to do a job, and he’s staying until he finishes it. The estate is on a winding road which gets covered with water when the tide comes in, in one of the film’s more impressive visuals. So, when Kipps goes to the creepy mansion, once the tide comes in, he’s stranded there until the tide goes out again.
Since this is a ghost story, as you would imagine, Kipps begins to see strange things inside the house, specifically a mysterious woman in black who’s none too friendly. As Kipps investigates, he learns that the mysterious woman is the ghost of Alice Drabow’s sister, who spent her life mourning the loss of her young son. Now as an angry ghost, she’s intent on making everyone in the village feel her pain, and she accomplishes this task by targeting their children. Nice lady!
THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a beautifully photographed horror movie, reminiscent of the Hammer Films period pieces of old. Director James Watkins has made a very impressive looking movie. It’s also quite creepy, as Watkins imbues the haunted house scenes with lots of unsettling and downright shocking moments. It’ll make you jump for sure.
And the acting is all very good. Daniel Radcliffe more than holds his own as the lead character, Arthur Kipps. He easily carries this movie on his shoulders, and is interesting enough to keep the viewer’s interest throughout. The supporting cast is adequate, especially Ciaran Hinds, who plays Daily, the one man in the village who befriends Kipps.
But where THE WOMAN IN BLACK goes wrong is in its story which just can’t sustain enough interest for its 90 minute running time. The ghost scenes are eerie, but when it comes time for the story to deliver answers, it’s simply not all that impressive, nor is it anything we haven’t seen before. I certainly expected more.
This came as a surprise to me, because the screenplay by Jane Goldman is based upon the novel by Susan Hill. You’d think the story here would be deep and resonating, but it’s shallow and ordinary. While THE WOMAN IN BLACK is certainly a very atmospheric movie, by far its greatest attribute, its story is about as standard as ghost stories get.
You have an angry vengeful ghost. In short, she’s pissed off, and she’s letting the world know it. And that’s it. There’s nothing more creative here, nothing to lift this particular tale above the rest. When all is said and done, there just isn’t much that is original about THE WOMAN IN BLACK.
I suppose I should be grateful that there aren’t any silly plot twists at the end.
Screenwriter Jane Goldman worked on the screenplays to two of my favorite films of the past few years, KICK-ASS (2010) and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011). While her screenplay for THE WOMAN IN BLACK, which she wrote solo, is decent, it’s not as good as KICK-ASS or X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a somber tale, steeped in sadness, and as such it’s something of a downer. It reminded me a little bit of THE OTHERS (2001) starring Nicole Kidman, although that film had a more creative plot.
If you’re alone at night and in the right kind of mood, THE WOMAN IN BLACK might work for you, but if not, it might leave you empty and wanting more.
Still, it was good to see the Hammer logo at the beginning of the movie, and I hope there are plenty more Hammer Films to come.
Welcome back, Hammer! You shouldn’t have stayed away so long.