Without a sudden eruption of blood and guts or a suburban home’s transformation into the devil’s playground it would seem that horror can no longer shock or more importantly legitimately evoke fear in its audience. There is a subtle distinction between shock and fear and an understanding of this is why The Women in Black proves such a successful example of the impressive possibilities of understated horror storytelling.
Adapted from Susan Hill’s novel of the same name, the film follows solicitor Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) and his efforts to consolidate the assets of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. Unfortunately for Kipps and the residents of Crythin Gifford, Alice isn’t going quietly as her ghostly presence possesses the children of the village – leading them to whatever gruesome, suicidal end her eponymous incarnation deems fit.
In the vein of the original Hammer studios films, The Woman in Black roots itself in a classical interpretation of the horror genre. An interpretation indebted to films such as The Wicker Man (1973) and the macabre literature of Edgar Allan Poe. The film occupies itself with the fables and folklore of rural northern villages; a land in which darkened cobblestone streets and shady farmhands decked out in tweed are as suspicious as whatever ghoulish apparition awaits upon the marshes. Often pinning you to your seat and relentlessly thrusting fear in your face, it is the equivalent of being waterboarded in a haunted house as ceramic dolls rear their distorted faces to catch your gaze whilst a symphony of wind-up toys chatter and chime from every direction.
Sadly Daniel Radcliffe still displays the emotional clout of a boy wizard rather than a leading man; the tortured innards of a waning solicitor, single father and widow are never exposed, leaving a fresh-faced Radcliffe to romp around Drablow’s Eel Marsh Manor in what occasionally feels like a magical mystery tour fit for Hogwarts.
This piece was originally featured at Rushes Magazine and can also be read here