The Woman in Black is a fairly effective old-school horror film. The movie delivers a number of jump scares, sure, but only occasionally does it succeed in being genuinely scary on a more sophisticated level. Nevertheless, the filmmakers deserve to be commended for bringing to the screen a film that employs traditional ghost-story concepts instead of gore and torture porn to scare the viewer.
The screenplay, based on a novel by Susan Hill and written by Jane Goldman, relies too heavily on the clichés of the genre for the picture to become consistently suspenseful and chilling. A haunted mansion? Check. A ghostly reflection appearing in a window? Check. An apparition portending death? Check. Suspicious, unfriendly villagers? Check. Creepy period toys? Check. And so on. Fortunately, director James Watkins manages to compensate quite well for the shortcomings of the script, infusing the deliberately paced proceedings with a sense of immediacy and increasing dread.
In terms of intensity, the highlight of the film is the climactic scene leading up to the titular ghost’s reunion of sorts with a certain deceased person; it had me on the edge of my seat, full of apprehension. The final scene, on the other hand, didn’t really work for me, because it is jarringly pat with regard to everything that precedes it.
The greatest asset of the movie is arguably its heavy, brooding atmosphere. Thanks to Tim Maurice-Jones’s evocative cinematography, The Woman in Black is a visual treat. Furthermore, the aesthetically meticulous work of production designer Kave Quinn and her team establishes an authentic, somewhat gloomy world in which the events of the admittedly formulaic story take place.
Daniel Radcliffe ably breathes life into the character of Arthur Kipps and makes the viewer care about him, although I must admit to initially thinking that Radcliffe looks too young for the part. The real anchor of the movie turns out to be Ciarán Hinds, whose understated portrayal of Mr. Daily renders his character more intriguing than the primary protagonist. Janet McTeer is very good in her few scenes.