Designed as the centrepiece keystone of the current reinvention of the long-dormant Hammer studio, Susan Hill's Edwardian haunted-house tale has been reconfigured by Eden Lake director James Watkins and Kick Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman as a smart and stylish, if creakily old-fashioned, moodpiece, showcasing Daniel Radcliffe in his first major post-Harry Potter role. He plays London junior solicitor Arthur Kipps, a lonely widower who has been raising his son alone in the four years since his wife died during childbirth, who finds himself investigating the mysterious goings-on in the cold-comfort Northern village of Crythin Gifford, where he was sent to sort the estate of a newly-deceased client and ends up investigating a vengeful ghost whom the locals consider responsible for the deaths of their children.

     Mr. Radcliffe is a solid lead even if the role isn't particularly demanding, and gets classy supporting work from steady hands Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer as the only sympathetic locals. But what's surprising about The Woman in Black is just how much it steers clear from blood, gore and other shock cuts and cues every five minutes, to focus instead on classics such as (gasp!) character development, (double gasp!) tension buildup or (triple gasp!) disquieting atmospherics, bringing fond memories of a time where horror was not about shocking the viewer gratuitously. That may make Mr. Watkins' sophomore feature a bit too stodgy and creaky for modern audiences raised on cheap thrills - the plot doesn't really help - but ensures as well a certain perennial quality to the film, much helped by the economical handling that refuses to go overboard and focuses on the necessary only, with some truly unnerving moments and a clever use of locations.

     A little more personality might not have come amiss, but The Woman in Black is so out of step with what passes for horror these days that it is refreshingly welcome.

     Daniel Radcliffe; Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam.
     Director, James Watkins; screenplay, Jane Goldman, from the novel by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black; cinematography (colour by DeLuxe, Panavision widescreen), Tim Maurice-Jones; music, Marco Beltrami; production designer, Kave Quinn; costume designer, Keith Madden; editor, Jon Harris; producers, Richard Jackson, Simon Oakes, Brian Oliver (Hammer Films, Alliance Films, The UK Film Council, Cross Creek Pictures, Talisman Films, Exclusive Media Group, in co-production with Filmgate Films and Film i Väst), UK/USA/Sweden, 2011, 94 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room, Lisbon, February 28th 2012. 


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