Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- With his sheet-white skin and lank black hair, Daniel Radcliffe personifies Victorian brooding in “The Woman in Black.”
Assisted by a complement of ghastly spooks imported from Japanese shockers like “The Grudge,” “Woman” updates, if barely, the genre’s cobwebby 19th-century atmosphere, screeching music cues and sinister-looking ghost children.
Genuine scares are few in this stodgy ghost story produced by Hammer Films, England’s long-dormant horror factory of the 1960s.
Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, “Woman” stars Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a London lawyer grieving over a dead wife and struggling to connect emotionally with his four-year-old son.
Sent to a remote English village to settle the estate of a client, Kipps is an unwelcome intrusion on the secretive life of the jittery, superstitious community.
When kids start killing themselves -- jumping out windows, swallowing lye, setting themselves ablaze -- the rational Kipps deduces that his arrival at the dead client’s creepy old mansion has some connection to the tragedies.
Kipps uncovers a sad tale involving the negligent drowning death of a child and a mother seeking revenge. Her ghost -- the Lady in Black -- hovers above the suicides.
All of which is just enough excuse to have Radcliffe wandering the mansion’s dark hallways, moaning staircases and closed-off rooms for what feels like most of the film’s 95 minutes (he’s dark without ever being particularly engaging). In the dead quiet a raven swoops by, a chair starts rocking, mechanical toys clank to a start -- a gimmick endlessly repeated to diminishing returns.
Still, the pint-sized spirits are suitably eerie, as is the titular ghoul herself. Speeding toward the camera with a banshee scream, Liz White gets off a few good jolts, but you’ll feel embarrassed for succumbing after the second or third time.
Directed by James Watkins (“Eden Lake”), “Woman in Black” looks gorgeous. Panoramic shots of snowy marshes and old country homes just might have real-life tourists dog-earring guidebook pages for the Yorkshire Dales, and Kave Quinn’s production design creates the spookiest haunted house since Nicole Kidman ambled through “The Others.”
But Jane Goldman’s screenplay, based on Hill’s novel, sinks in marshland muck -- literally -- in a preposterously unconvincing semi-resolution. Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer, as two of the more sophisticated locals, top a sturdy supporting cast, but no one can save this old-fashioned chiller from the spiritualist hokum that ultimately comes calling.
“The Woman in Black,” from CBS Films, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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