The genius of The Woman In Black is that it is an old-school ghost story. Bearing the iconic Hammer name, the film’s focus on traditional scares and minimalism shows that this is not part of the modern horror wave. Instead, it’s a callback to the days of old.There was a massive furore on the movie’s release about the decision of the filmmakers to cut a few seconds of detail in order to get a 12A certificate instead of the 15 that the original cut would have been given. It shows the power of the scares that the film manages to be utterly terrifying without resorting to the gore porn and gratuitous sex that have become the hallmark of post-Hammer horror films.
Thankfully, by shedding the gore, The Woman In Black becomes all the more terrifying. It is without doubt the scariest film of recent times; not just for its plethora of jump scares that plough every depth of the horror film bag of tricks, but also for the pervasive atmosphere of creepiness.
It is a testament to the wonderful directorial talent of James Watkins that the film is almost constantly creepy. Every shadowy corner or area of darkness is utilised to full effect and, although a lot of the scares may seem old hat, each one is still a sucker punch that chills to the bone.
The scares come from everywhere as well. Everything from a leaking tap to a rocking chair is used to scare the living shit out of the audience. It doesn’t help that the house is filled with a series of toys scarier than the ones in the basement of Ann Summers. Watkins puts all of his skill into making us think a scare is coming from one place and then hurling one at us from somewhere completely different. It’s a masterclass in how to genuinely horrify a postmodern audience so desensitised to the traditional tricks of the horror trade.
A film so light on dialogue and heavy on scares relies, inevitably, on the strength of its lead performance. Mercifully in that respect, Daniel Radcliffe is very good at the centre of the film and is surrounded by an equally brilliant supporting cast. Harry Potter has allowed him to perfect his “man looking scared” acting and so he manages to nail it here, giving us a brilliant everyman to be scared for as the vengeful spectral inhabitant of Eel Marsh House menaces the hell out of him. Unfortunately, though, Radcliffe is woefully miscast. He is still too young to be believable as a widower who has a four year old child. Despite the sideburns desperately trying to endow him with some world-weariness and age, it’s never quite believable that Radcliffe actually is this character.
But that’s very unimportant in the general scheme of things. The Woman In Black is an utterly wonderful horror film. Instead of relying on blood and gore, the film uses shadowy corners and brilliant sound design to conjure an array of scares that still work on the third or fourth viewing, as I myself can testify.
Just don’t watch it alone in an empty house. You’ll shit bricks.
Extras include a series of short featurettes that mostly consist of interviews with Jane Goldman and James Watkins, as well as the obvious focus on Dan Radcliffe’s Harry to horror transformation. The lengthiest of these is a red carpet special that is mostly fine, but becomes massively irritating by asking Adam Deacon and Mark Wright what they thought of the film. My “Don’t Care” meter was going mental at that point.
There’s also an excellent talk track from Goldman and Watkins that is light on the usual set anecdotes, but heavy on musings about the film’s horror and directorial insight. Watkins also points out a number of things that definitely go unnoticed on a first viewing of the film and so fans of the pause button will have plenty to do.