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Harry Potter no more: Daniel Radcliffe takes on The Woman in Black

The Duquesne Duke

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 23:02

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The release of director James Watkin's third film The Woman in Black brings with it two questions: is it an effectively scary ghost story? and can Daniel Radcliffe come out from under the shadow of his eight-film stint as the boy wizard?

The plot of The Woman in Black, released Friday, is classic ghost story, haunted house material. Arthur Kipps, a single father and struggling lawyer who lost his wife in childbirth, is sent to a remote village to settle the affairs of a recently deceased elder by sorting her belongs at the isolated Eel Marsh House.

Once in the village, Kipps is met with hostility by the clearly unnerved locals, whose children have been dying or disappearing under mysterious circumstances. As Kipps explores Eel Marsh House and sees tragedy strike the village, he begins to unravel the mystery behind the woman in black.

The plot is standard for the genre, but the direction, effects and style make for an overwhelming, heavy experience. The darkness is imposing, the colors are washed out and every set piece feels isolated, lonely and open to haunting.

Eel Marsh House, where the terror reaches a fever pitch, is an imposing structure, whose placement on an island that is cut off from the town once a day by the tide just adds to the suspense. It is all very tense and almost uncomfortable.

The Woman in Black delivers in expectation of scaring audiences. The movie goes for the slow-burn school of thought a la Paranormal Activity and foregoes gore and an overabundance of frightening imagery for a slower build to blood-chilling moments of terror.

The Woman in Black's presence is always enough to send chills through the viewer's body. One particular sequence features a 10-minute buildup of fearful tension that leads to an all-out display of horror…and nearly none of it involves the cheap jump scares that lesser movies go for. This film earns its "horror movie" label in spades.

Unfortunately, the film will be remembered more for its direction, suspense and thrills than for the performances that are supposed to bring it all together.

Radcliff, unfortunately, just does not look the part of a matured father who has just lost a wife. Even the mutton chops, which are clearly there to mask his youthful complexion, fail to make him seem like more than a boy playing dress up. His acting leaves much to be desired, and he cannot quite capture the emotional depth required for the part.

It doesn't help either, that the scenes which elicited the apex of terror in me were not reflected in his character. Radcliffe seems only slightly unnerved that a ghostly woman has just hung herself from the ceiling directly in front of him right after he witnesses the ghost of a boy rise from the mud of the marsh.

Radcliffe is not the only problem where performance is concerned. The villagers "leave-this-town-now-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you" shtick is worn conspicuously on their sleeves, leaving little to be interpreted and, honestly, it is almost grating at times.

Thankfully, performances from Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Daily, the foil to Kipps's building superstitions, and Janet McTeer, Mr. Daily's mentally damaged wife, help maintain the quality of the film during parts when Radcliff might have broken the immersion.

The Woman in Black is a highly formulaic movie. There is the isolated town, the haunted house, the furtive ghost and the mystery to be solved. But this formula is executed so well that it elevates the film above Radcliffe's shortcomings as an actor.

 

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