On Friday I wandered down to my local cinema with my mate Murray and caught the second showing of the revived Hammer studios new film The Woman in Black. Murray had already joked on the walk over that the auditorium would be packed with screaming teenage Potter fans a notion that I had brushed off, but on entry to the screen (just in time for the Orange ad) we discovered that this was indeed the case. Whenever Daniel Radcliffe appeared on screen the excitement from the back rows was audible. This mildly tainted my enjoyment of the film, as on a personal level I find it hard to feel scared when viewing a film with large numbers of (giggling) people. Others on the other hand enjoy this shared atmosphere of opening weekend horror movies, and I admit that I was happy to hear the loud screams of my fellow audience members for a home grown British horror, which brings me onto the film itself.
Hats off to Hammer for managing to do the inexplicable and produce a horror film that is on one level a gore-free, completely inoffensive, almost family friendly 12A film, but on another level genuinely chilling, seat grippingly terrifying, thoroughly modern, and and yet nostalgically classical horror. This is also the first of the new Hammer films that I have seen that I think can be described as a Hammer film in the truest sense (fitting in with it’s previous cannon of films) Let Me In. and The Resident both felt very American, in style not just in location, whereas The Woman in Black is unashamedly British in both regards. The film is very modern in style, but manages to create a continuity with Hammer’s past through its use of themes and iconography. Back once more are the unfriendly locals, the rolling fog banks, the religious iconography, and the muddy grave yards, only this time the scenery is stomped through by the fresh faced Daniel Radcliffe.
And now a brief summery of the plot. Daniel Radcliffe’s wife has died in child birth, this event leaves him so distraught that his work evidently suffers, and now, a few years on, he is given an ultimatum by his employer that he must travel to a remote coastal village and spend the weekend sorting out the papers of a deceased clients estate before returning or he will lose his job. Sounds simple enough? However when Radcliffe arrives in the village he finds that the locals, including the local solicitor who is supposed to help him, want him to go straight back where he came from. Even worse the house he needs to visit is on an island surrounded by dangerous marshes that can only be reached by a causeway when the tide is out. He soon discovers that the house is haunted by a mysterious woman in black, and the consequences of seeing her are grave indeed for the residents of the local village. But not only is Radcliffe tapped in the house for long periods by the tide, but he is trapped by the knowledge of what will become of his son if he leaves without completing his work for the firm.
Although I was not scared per say, as I am notoriously hard to scare nowadays, I did find that the film had a suitably creepy atmosphere, and some nail biting set pieces. The child’s playroom with the rocking chair was enough to give anyone nightmares. The other people in the theatre were thoroughly terrified from start to finish, including Murray who was gripping my arm from about a third of the way in. The Woman in Black is a very, beautiful, atmospheric, highly enjoyable, and well made film and I thoroughly recommend it.