Daniel Radcliffe is Harry Potter no more. After playing the wand-wielding wizard over eight films and 10 years, the Brit superstar has carefully chosen his first post-Potter role – and instead of debunking to America, he’s stayed right here on home turf for a pleasantly old school ghost story that has him trying new things while sticking to the genre he’s known for.
Not that he’s asked to stretch himself too much in The Woman In Black, a pared-back chiller based on Susan Hill’s much-loved spectral page-turner. Radcliffe plays solicitor Arthur Kipps, who’s still mourning the death of his wife when he’s sent to an isolated village to sort through the estate of a recently deceased woman. While there, though, strange accidents result in the deaths of numerous children, and Arthur keeps catching sight of a woman dressed all in black.
Lovingly scripted by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass), Woman In Black is a very British ghoulfest. While TV series American Horror Story has been offering its own distinct brand of gory histrionics and quirky stunt casting, Woman In Black sways through buttoned-down grief, small town superstitions and twisted family secrets.
Capably helmed by Eden Lake director James Watkins, it’s a spare, atmosphere-heavy mood piece that wants you to feel the horror as well as see it. It’s also damn near a silent movie for a good 30 minutes as Arthur spends a night at a creepy house that may or may not be haunted. To Radcliffe’s credit, he raises his game considerably here, using those big soulful eyes to spine-tingling effect as he lets us into his character’s tortured inner world.
Some may find the film a little too old school. Though Woman In Black is often genuinely unsettling, it never aims to break the mould Sixth Sense-style. The strange ending (different to the book and stage play) is also oddly underwhelming, tying things up too neatly.
Despite that, Watkins’ film is a slow-burn chiller that mesmerises with shadowy imagery and grim story-telling. His Woman In Black is creepier than it is genuinely terrifying, the stealthy camerawork and heavy shadows effectively scratching under the skin, while the odd jump scares induce hair-raising paralysis rather than leap-out-of-seat spasms. For Radcliffe, it’s a step in an interesting direction. Woman In Black represents a growing on-screen maturity for the young actor, and it’ll be fascinating to see what he tackles next. 3/5