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Woman in Black, The


Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Shaun Dooley, Misha Handley

Director: James Watkins

Hammer Films, the British production company that revived horror movies in the mid-twentieth century have, like Dracula, risen from the grave: sadly the films from the newly-revived Hammer have been a distinct disappointment to genre buffs.

This merely mediocre ghost movie (a genre never undertaken by the original Hammer) may have made money at the box-office but has little original to commend it.

So how do you make a mediocre movie make money?


Cast a former Hogwarts' wizard-turned-Broadway-song-and-dance performer (in, appropriately, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) in the lead and ignore his unsuitability for the role of a widower with a four-year-old son.

Give Radcliffe his due for trying hard. Unfortunately, he was only 21 when The Woman in Black started shooting and it shows. Despite over-applied seven-o’clock-shadow, Radcliffe just doesn’t possess the gravitas or the acting ability to convince as a Victorian solicitor sent to a remote English village to sort out a dead woman’s papers only to be met with hostility by the locals and subjected to a reign of supernatural terror by the eponymous woman in black…

Where the stage play was genuinely scary, the film is almost entirely a selection of genre clichés. If screenwriter Jane Goldman ignored a single supernatural cliché then I must have missed it. And I’ve seen the film twice.

And it's hardly scary. The 'Harry Potter' films were scarier.

Goldman throws in everything she can think of, from things that go bump in the night to screams and shouts, sinister spectres and extraordinary events, complete with an utterly expected Carrie-style ‘surprise’ ending, without coming up with anything as good as Susan Hill’s original novel.

Director Watkins decorates the result with lashings of moody cinematography (Tim Maurice-Jones) and regulation horror movie music (Marco Beltrami) but simply comes up with a chiller with a well-deserved 12A certificate.

If this forgettable, barely scary show is the best use that can be made of the once-proud name of Hammer, then I imagine the original Hammer Greats - Dracula, Frankenstein’s Creature, the Werewolf and assorted horror creatures – must all be turning in their graves rather than rising from them.

(To be fair, I did learn something I never knew before from the film. According to Goldman and Watkins, when you are dead your breath is still visible in cold weather. For me, that was the most (only really?) creative aspect of The Lady in Black)

Alan Frank

UK/Canada/Sweden 2012. UK Distributor: Momentum. Colour.
94 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 11 Feb 2012