The Woman in Black movie poster
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The Woman in Black movie poster

The Woman in Black Movie Review

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Harry Potter returns to the land of the Muggles and finds that things are a lot scarier than He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named in The Woman in Black, Daniel Radcliffe's first movie since the franchise that made him a household name came to a close. The Woman in Black is creepy from start to finish and should satisfy most horror fans, but it fails to capitalize on its eerie atmosphere with a few too many cliché scares and a terribly disappointing ending.

The Woman in Black is about a young lawyer named Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), who leaves his young, motherless son in London to travel to a remote town to settle the late owner's estate. He quickly discovers that the house is haunted by a very angry, forever vengeful ghost whose hobby it is to kill the nearby town's children.

Naturally, even though he sees more scary things than most people should see in their entire lives, he keeps wandering around the dark house searching for the source of all those creepy sounds.

The Woman in Black starts off superbly. Director James Watkins, working off a screenplay by Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, The Debt, Kick-Ass), paints a beautifully bleak world that is as cold, gray and wet as you'd expect from a small English town at the turn of the century. There is relatively little dialogue in the movie and Radcliffe is often by himself (well, other than the very angry, forever vengeful ghost); the creepy settings - the washed away village, the abandoned house on the hill, the tidal marshlands that separate it from the rest of the world - serve as their own characters, visually stimulating and consistently ominous.

Radcliffe proves immediately that he'll have no problem separating from the world of Harry Potter. The boy wizard is gone, replaced by a serious adult actor who can carry a movie on his shoulders. Not once was I compelled to shout, "Ten points for Gryffindor!"

Watkins maintains a consistent level of creepiness throughout the movie, the scares arriving with increased frequency as time passes. While most of the scares have been seen before - ghosts lurking in the background, vanishing as soon as the character turns around; ominous sounds in the next room; dead children staring from windows - Watkins throws a few curveballs.

Unfortunately, The Woman in Black is ultimately a shallow affair. Based on the synopsis on Wikipedia, some of the more complex elements of the Susan Hill novel have been removed in favor of a streamlined story. The third act subsequently lacks meat or intrigue. As scary as the movie is at times, it becomes increasingly clear that Watkins is a one-trick pony - while he does them better than most, the scares are cliché and occur way too often for their own good. I was hoping the movie was going to play out more like The Others, relying on scares unseen and sound effects rather than cheap gimmicks. Watkings goes the cheap gimmicks route.

Even worse, the ending is downright dreadful. Considerably different from the book, the ending is abrupt, unfulfilling and utterly predictable. It's about as cliché an ending as horror movie endings can be, and is explained away with a cheap line of dialogue.

The Woman in Black looks great, features a strong performance by Daniel Radcliffe and has plenty of entertaining, albeit cheap, scares, but much of it is wasted by a watered down story and painfully lame ending.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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