By Tommy Bond, Film Critic
Many years ago, in the quaint little village of Crythin Gifford, Jennet Humfrye’s son died in a terrible accident while she was away. The townspeople never recovered the body.
Upon learning this, the woman became enraged with disbelief. “Why didn’t they search for the body,” she asked.
Utterly devastated, she hangs herself in her lavish home, Eel Marsh, dying in the terrible grip of hatred for the townspeople, especially those with children alive and healthy.
Jump forward many years to late 19th century England, and we meet Arthur Kipps (played by a convincingly non-wizard Daniel Radcliffe), a widowing lawyer with a young boy to take care of.
Desperately needing to cover the mountain of medical bills his wife left, he takes the job no one at the firm wants: He must go to Crythin Gifford, and thoroughly investigate the entirety of Eel Marsh House to ensure that his firm has the official last will and testament of Alice Drablow, Jennet Humfrye’s sister.
And so he travels across country to the creepy old house, only accessible during low tide. Upon his arrival, the townspeople are none too pleased. The malevolent ghost of Jennet Humfrye haunts that old house now, they call her the Woman in Black. When she is seen, a child’s death is soon to follow.
So we have our setup. It’s a classic ghost tale with a plot that fans of The Ring and The Grudge will be familiar with, a hero who is determined to not be scared away and a horrifying monster hell-bent on killing kids until she is reunited with the body of her own.
The house where it all happens is large, shadowy and full of wonderful noise makers, giving us a wide range of sounds to creep us out and set us on edge.
We experience them alongside Kipp, during his first full night in the house, in an expert sequence of tension and mounting dread.
A terrible silence pervades for a while as shadows and specters drift in the background, and then a horrid cacophony of wicked noises attacks our senses, setting this scare-a-thon into overdrive for a scene so long and fantastically intense that we beg it to stop and keep going all at the same time.
My hand still hurts from my girlfriend squeezing it so hard.
But after that first night, the pace and story downshift into low gear, coasting into a tacky and hurried resolution and an ending scene that should have been scrapped before the script was ever accepted.
However, Radcliffe gives promise that his career is going to be very bright indeed, even without that lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.
Directed by James Watkins. Written by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images.
Running Time: 95 Minutes.
Released in theatres: February 3rd, 2012.