Movie Review: The Woman in Black

Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps in "The Woman in Black"

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

It seems that Voldemort isn’t dead after all. He’s still very much in Harry’s head. Because, frankly, there’s no other explanation as to why Daniel Radcliffe, a.k.a. Harry Potter, chose to sign up for the lead in the exceedingly dreary The Woman in Black. It’s not that Radcliffe needed to make a name for himself; or that he couldn’t pay the rent; or that he had to prove that he could take on a character who was haunted by the death of a loved one, all the while confronting malevolent spirits attempting to use him as their corporeal whipping boy. Yep, it’s gotta be Voldemort, messing with our poor Daniel/Harry once again.

But Radcliffe does try to break out of the Harry mold a bit. This time around he plays muffled English solicitor Arthur Kipps, dressed in a slightly Victorian, 1930′s sort of way, trading in his iconic spectacles for a set of serious sideburns. As a widower — whose dead wife waves at him from inside his mirror — and a father of a cherubic four-year-old son, he’s older. But is this character wiser? Um, no, definitely not. Not when he forgets to cancel the weekend sojourn that his nanny and son are taking, in order to visit him at the village where every other tot is inexplicably dropping dead. And not when he chooses to stay at a haunted house overnight in order to get a little work done, even though that decision bespeaks a potentially fatal calamity. What?!?!

Lord, we hate a stupid hero. But Arthur could be kinda, sorta forgiven since he’s been unable to get over the death of his wife four years ago, and his job is on the line. This is his last chance, warns his superior, who sends him to a 400-year-old remote village on the east coast of the UK in order to sort out the estate papers of the firm’s client, a recently-deceased widow who’d been living at (or rather in) the middle of a marshland, residing in a dilapidated manse called Eel Marsh House. The villagers treat him rudely, suggesting that he turn around and leave immediately. But our Arthur is intent on carrying out the job, no matter what.

Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps in "The Woman in Black"

The “no matter what” is the eponymous Woman in Black, skulking around the mansion and the grounds, holding one heck of a grudge against the living. Though the one man who befriends Arthur, the rich Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), dismisses all the supernatural doings as sheer nonsense, his wife (Janet McTeer) falls into an occasional trance and/or possession. But heck, maybe she’s just allergic to the marsh.

Susan Hill, the writer of the original 1982 novel, described her preparation for the writing of the book: “I sat down and made a list of ingredients rather like baking a cake – a list of what you absolutely need in a ghost story – and then I worked from there.” And that’s exactly what’s wrong with this movie. The filmmakers give us all the haunted house “ingredients”: the twisting doorknobs, the solitary hand against the glass, the creaking floorboards, the empty-yet-aggressively-rocking rocking chair, the creepy glassy-eyed dolls … but forget to start with a solid grounding of plot. For a great majority of screen time, poor Mr. Kipps is relegated to tiptoeing down one hall after another, eyes wide in fear, wondering if something will happen. (We know exactly how he feels.) As for the supporting characters, any hope that they will enliven the piece by some added intrigue goes up in a ghostly plume of smoke. Boo. Or rather, boo hoo.

The location is eye-filling, a soggy, ruined estate that’s perfect ghost story material. The cinematography appeals as well, the film bathed in palettes of steel blue and plummy blacks. Even Radcliffe does fine as a widower who can’t quite break through his own suffocating bog of malaise.

But damn that Voldemort, making Harry suffer once again – actually, making us all suffer – with an inert plot that never dives beneath its initial muddy surface. However, the neighbor’s watch dog, supposedly growling in menace at an unseen ghost, is caught on camera with his tail inappropriately wagging merrily behind him. Oh well … at least some creature managed to be entertained.

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Rating on a scale of 5 Harry Potters and the Deathly, um, Shallows: 2

Release date: February 3, 2012
Directed by: James Watkins
Screenplay by: Jane Goldman
Based on the novel by: Susan Hill
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 95 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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