Daniel Radcliffe lays down his wand in the eagerly anticipated Blu-ray/ DVD release of Hammer-produced horror The Woman in Black. Smashing box office records in its theatrical run, the book – turned play – turned film is now the highest grossing British horror movie ever made.
Widowed solicitor and father Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is sent to a small town on the east coast of England where he is tasked to sort out the legal papers of Alice Drablow, the recently deceased owner of Eel Marsh House, so that his company can sell the property. But when he enters the sleepy town ofCrythin Gifford, it’s made clear straight away that the locals don’t want him there – and more specifically don’t want him going to Eel Marsh House. Not knowing why the townsfolk are so peculiar, he visits the Manor where he sees a mysterious woman dressed in black and on returning to the town, it seems that children are beginning to die in strange circumstances.
Gothic horror seems to have become a thing of the past – in an current era of uber-violence and gore it might not seem ‘trendy’ to make a nice little low-key Victorian ghost story, and that’s why I think The Woman in Black feels as fresh as it does. Tapping into a sub-genre which the company that produced it made so popular in decades past, it has the sense of harking back to the heydays, and there’s a confidence in the script and direction that validates that ideal.
James Watkins directs with a great sense of atmosphere and constructs the more frightening moments with real assurance. I agree that maybe the payoff to his scares maybe a bit cheap – looking for more of a jump than anything else – but the build up, that intake of breath as we the audience expects something terrifying to happen, is incredibly well played. It does take a little time to get going however, as all the major stuff does come in the final 40 minutes, don’t get me wrong there are some good moments in the beginning but it’s not until around the 50 minute mark where Radcliffe’s character decides to spend the night at Eel Marsh House that the train firmly gets on the tracks. Everything after is well worked and beautifully paced horror filmmaking where Watkins’ camera work really shines.
Radcliffe, in his first major role after Potter, does an excellent job. There is a little adjustment needed to believe him as a solicitor who has a young child but if you think about the year the film takes place, the age that he is would be about right. Plus, I think he’s solid screen presence, much of latter stuff doesn’t require any dialogue and he doesn’t seem to struggle with the challenge of a more physical performance.
But now onto the disc itself, the 1080p transfer presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio looks fantastic. Being a Gothic horror, black is probably the most important colour in the flick (yes, I know black isn’t a colour but bear with me!) where most films try and amp up the more vivid colours, this uses the darker pallet just as effectively, the shadow missed with the orange and yellow highlights of the candles looks incredible in high definition. And the sound is just as solid as the video, taking into account that I only watched this through the speakers through my TV, I was still impressed. If you have a 5.1 in your home then this will definitely use channeling to great effect as all great horrors should.
Pleasing fans I’m sure, the extras on the disc are ok as well. Starting off with an audio commentary with director James Watkins and writer Jane Goldman, they talk about the production, working with Radcliffe, as well as some script stuff and how they resolved any storytelling issues they encountered. For anyone who enjoyed the film, it’s well worth your time. There’s a short 10 minute making of and even shorter featurette looking at Radcliffe’s performance and the character of Arthur Kipps, neither which really goes into much depth but I appreciate they’ve been included. There’s another interview feature with Radcliffe, Watkins and Goldman as well as rather pointless Red Carpet thing. What I did like though was the inclusion of the ghost story winner from the competition the film held for fans, with Radcliffe reading; it was a nice little touch for the disc in my opinion. And that’s about it, there’s a couple of photo galleries that really aren’t worth talking about but overall a decent collection of features.
I’m a big fan of The Woman in Black; it’s a solidly made horror film that doesn’t need to rely on gore to get a reaction out of its audience. It’s well directed, acted, and although has some pacing issues at the beginning delivers in spades at the end. If you like well crafted horror, then this is for you.