Arthur Kipps is haunted, isolated and detached from the world. His emotional state is made manifest when he is sent on a last-chance job by his employer to a haunted house just off the shore of a sleepy coastal town; a house which is cut off from the mainland at high-tide.
Hammer Films was famous for its Gothic horror movies in the ’50s and ’60s. It was the true successors to Universal’s Horror series, with its then-modern takes on vampires, Dracula, and Frankenstein. If there was one thing that thing that set its films apart from other horror films of the age, it was atmosphere.
Hammer productions were often period pieces; set in the time of castles, carriages, and busty barmaids in push-up corsets. The action would take place in a dark, remote village (mostly at night) with a frightened population. A newcomer would arrive, find the source of the evil plaguing the town (in a dilapidated castle or foggy cemetery), and remove it.
In The Woman in Black; Arthur is that interloper. A lawyer sent to a far-away castle, he finds a hostile village who warns him to abandon his duty and leave (not unlike the opening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula). But Aurthur persists; he has no choice, as this job is his only hope to keep his tattered family together. Terrible things begin to happen, and Arthur is made the scapegoat, though he can’t figure out why.
This film takes place in a later time period than the Hammer films of old, but only slightly (there are still a number of carriages, but a sad lack of busty barmaids). It also tones down some of the stylistic elements that made Hammer famous, but this is understandable.
As innovative and striking as their films were back in the day, by today’s standards, they would look cliched, if not outright cartoonish. Despite this, the setting of The Woman in Black still elicits the same feeling as the previous Hammer movies. It’s moody, dark, oppressive, and, in its way, beautiful.
This is a very still and quite film. If you’re looking for gore and excitement, you’ll be bored; but if you enjoy a slow build-up, the pacing is spectacularly effective. The stillness of the film isn’t just a stylistic decision; it is used as a contrast to highlight the horror. This is a ghost story about an apparition with only minimal ability to interact with the real world. In a loud and busy film; she wouldn’t stand out at all; but in this one, even the slightest sound becomes a scream, and a tiny movement a horrifying appearance.
With so little dialogue and action, Daniel Radcliffe is left to carry the movie almost solely by facial expression, and he does so wonderfully. Arthur was a man already dead inside and surviving only for his child. We see in this film what happens when the living and dead aspects of himself are transplanted to the world around him; forcing him to confront the conflict he has been hiding away from for the last four years.
The Woman in Black is a worthy addition to the Hammer catalog, which is very high praise. The Blu Ray looks and sounds great, perfectly representing the lush setting and creepy sound design. Extras include a commentary and a making-of feature.