While watching The Woman in Black, I couldn’t help but wonder where this film would have found itself without the star wattage of Daniel Radcliffe, here to anchor the film. The latest release from CBS Films, quickly making a name for itself as the home for winter months schlock to fill theater screens, at times offers nothing to differentiate itself from your garden variety Hallmark Channel original movie. Be it acting or simple production design, this film is a step behind even the worst pseudo-doc that has graced our screens lately.
Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) stars here as Arthur Kipps, a young widower still dealing with his wife’s death years after the fact. A lawyer by trade, his grief has upset his life so much that his employer gives him one last opportunity to save his job. Sent to a remote village to sort through a recently deceased woman’s affairs, he is met with hostility by the superstitious townsfolk. In fact, the only person that seems to treat him with anything other than disdain is the town’s wealthiest man, Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds), who tends to view his neighbors with contempt.
Arthur soon finds himself in the dearly departed’s dilapidated and secluded home. The estate rests on a marsh that is cut off from the rest of the village for half the day by the high tide, so Arthur has plenty of time to become acquainted with the artifacts found around the disheveled house. While in a child’s bedroom, he notices a woman dressed in black standing in the family graveyard. He runs to find her, only to turn and see the same woman now standing where he was inside moments before. Once he returns to the village, he begins to unravel the mystery of the titular character. Cue ominous music!
I’ll help you unravel that mystery now; take the Blair Witch legend, harvest the “best” effects from a Paranormal Activity sequel (eek, a shutter just rattled!), and bleed the colors to the point that the viewers will wonder for a second if they accidently walked into The Artist. It’s hard to believe that this film was produced by Hammer Films, the legendary English horror house that was beloved by lonely teenagers throughout the 1960s for their constant slate of bloody period scares. Hammer’s new rule seems to be substitute the viscera with dull line readings and overblown music cues.
Of course, you have to look at a director when you start discussing a production’s miscues, and here is where we may find the true cause to our misfortunes. James Watkins isn’t a first-timer behind the camera, but he isn’t too far from it. With one English indie thriller, Eden Lake, under his belt, and the script of the horrid The Descent 2 to his credit, Watkins doesn’t have the stellar resume that would seem to beckon a young star wishing to make his mark in adult cinema. While the cast is small, it seemingly intimidated Watkins from day one to actually direct the extras, as every single villager has the same expression on their faces whenever Radcliffe appears in a scene.
Radcliffe does as well here as anyone possibly could, proving that he does have a future on the big screen in more adult fare. The biggest compliment I could possibly give him is that with this performance, I never once paused to think of him as Harry Potter. Hopefully he will find himself in the company of better material next time.