Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Woman in Black ***

Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer
Sophie Stuckey, Liz White, Misha Handley

It's almost impossible to look at Daniel Radcliffe and not think of a certain boy wizard who plagued movie screens for an entire decade. His face became synonymous with the idea of typecasting and viewers should not feel guilty about having a hard time pretending he's someone else while watching The Woman in Black.
Kudos must be given to the young actor who is trying so hard to show audiences they haven't seen the last of him, however this is nary a benefit for him when his physiognomy evokes such blandness that he becomes a blank slate for whoever's directing him. Try as he does, onscreen Radcliffe can only muster two emotions: surprise and fear.
Luckily for him, his face is more than fit for this adaptation of Susan Hill's horror novel, which has him play the lead character of Arthur Kipps, a widowed London solicitor asked to handle Eel Marsh House, the estate of the late Alice Drablow. He travels to the remote village where he is welcomed by locals with unbecoming hostility. The reason? They think that Eel House is haunted by the ghost of a mysterious woman who is slowly eradicating the town's children. Not one to take superstitions seriously, Arthur visits the house where soon enough strange things begin to happen.
There is nothing particularly extraordinary about The Woman in Black, other than the fact that it's such a delightful throwback to atmospheric horror movies. It forgoes any signs of gore or extreme violence, in favor of creepy ambiance which paired with expertly crafted production design and efficient cinematography produce chills the likes of which we rarely get anymore.
The film might've been improved if the writers had put more emphasis in the fascinating dichotomy that lies between the advent of technology and the disappearance of the ghost story. Throughout the film there are numerous mentions to how machines have been used to move forward and leave behind superstition, something that becomes altogether more haunting during a scene in which a series of macabre wind toys perform a demonic symphony.
Throughout, Radcliffe does his best to look pale enough not to be confused with one of the movie's actual ghosts, while talented thespians like Hinds and McTeer chew the scenery with such subtle gusto that they are the ones mustering the real magic.

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