It doesn’t take much in a scary movie to make me jump, which is probably why I don’t watch too many scary movies. And a well-crafted scary movie doesn’t need a lot of gory moments to be scary. Some of the best movies I’ve seen are the ones that keep me on the edge of my seat – and guessing about the twists and turns – without the blood. One of the scary movies to hit the screen recently is reminiscent of such movies as “The Others” and “The Haunting.”
“The Woman in Black” fits into the same genre, but without quite as many plot twists as some of others that would count as psychological thrillers. Directed by James Watkins, the mood of the film is dreary from the very beginning. It is shot in a dark light that makes everything look a little gray.
In the movie, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a London lawyer who is sent to a remote location in the English countryside to look through the papers of a wealthy widow who has just died. The woman owned a large house and lots of property that Arthur’s boss wants to make a profit on. Arthur himself is a widow who lost his new wife when she died giving birth to their son Joseph (Misha Handley.) He is still haunted by the loss four years later.
When Arthur arrives in the remote village, he makes the acquaintance of a local man Daily (Ciarán Hinds) who offers him a lift to the boarding house in town. He warns Arthur that no one local will want to purchase the marshland house, the property owned by the widow Drablow. In fact, when Arthur arrives in town, none of the villagers want him to go anywhere near the home. They all try to get him to leave town immediately. But Arthur needs to do his job as he has medical bills still to pay from his wife’s treatment before she died – and his boss has warned him he is close to being fired.
Arthur pays a man with a carriage to take him out to the home that is surrounded by a marsh. The man will return to pick him up at the end of the day. The house is dark and dusty, with some of the rooms locked up tight. The first day Arthur is at the home, he is spooked by every sound and creak – but there turns out to be a legitimate reason for each noise, such as birds nesting upstairs. The score of the movie, the dark and remote location of the house and Arthur’s tentative movement through it makes it suspenseful. The movie makes good use of props from the era, such as eerie wind up toys that start playing music without anyone present.
The only unusual thing Arthur sees the first day is a woman in black outside the home and what sounds like a carriage crashing into the marsh; but when he tries to report it to a local constable, the constable brushes off his concerns. Kipps witnesses the death of a young girl, which leaves him and the villagers shaken.
Daily, too, has lost a son at a young age when the boy drowned in an accident by the ocean. The widow who lived in the marsh house had also lost a son at a young age. The deaths of young children seem too frequent in the town to be a coincidence, but Daily chalks the townfolks’ talk about a woman haunting the city up to nothing. His wife (Janet McTeer,) however, believes their deceased son talks through her. Whenever she has a spell where she seems to be possessed with the boy’s spirit, Daily medicates her so that she quiets down and goes to sleep.
Despite the townspeople’s desire for him to leave the place, Arthur continues his work at the home. Through searching out documents, he discovers a secret about the Drablow’s son and the woman who could be haunting the village. Through more suspenseful scenes, Arthur comes up with a plan to stop the haunting once and for all. Even though he believes he has been successful, he still tries to keep his own son out of the village, trying to cancel a weekend trip for the boy and his nanny.
The end of the movie is a surprise, but not nearly as shocking as the conclusion of other ghost stories such as “The Others” or “The Sixth Sense.” The movie is worth a watch for those who want a scary movie without the gore that comes in so many horror films today. Radcliffe is good in the role, but perhaps because the film is dark and dreary, and he still has an English accent, it was hard to picture him as something other than Harry Potter.