Hammer films has a rich legacy of making Gothic Horror masterpieces. While prolific in the 50s -70s, their output almost totally dried up and the studio lay dormant until the early 2000s. I’d love to go on more about Hammer Horror Films, but I’m saving most of that material for a separate post. The Woman in Black is a damn fine return to form for the iconic studio. With a sequel looming on the horizon, I felt this was a good time to take another look at this retelling of a contemporary British classic.
Originally a 1983 Novella, and then a 1989 Telefilm, The Woman In Black is probably best known for its 1987 stage play which went on to be the second longest running play in the West End of London. By the time the 2012 film came around, the story was pretty well worn territory…for Brits anyway. Director James Watkins manages to craft a film that plays up the Gothic traditions of Hammer as well as play to the sensibilities of a modern audience. Casting Harry Potter as your lead definitely helps with that as well.
Yup, that’s right. Daniel Radcliffe turns in a dramatic performance not long removed from his days of saving Hogwarts. He plays Arthur Kripps, a widowed lawyer who is sent to help close out an estate called Eel Marsh House. Eel Marsh is surrounded by marshes and is only accessible by a narrow causeway which disappears when the tide is high. It is within these shadow filled corridors that Arthur begins his encounters with The Woman in Black, and learns of the haunting legacy she has visited on the nearby village. No spoilers, go watch the goddamn movie.
Where the film really shines is its use of atmosphere and setting. Stolen glances of the spectral woman from deep within the shadows of the lonely house. The isolation, oppressive fog, the festering marsh land. These elements work wonders towards establishing a bleak, hopeless atmosphere. The colors are muted, the score is haunting, and the shadows are everywhere. Each role is perfectly cast, the villagers genuinely looking terrified and superstitious, while Radcliffe looks like a man struggling to maintain his grip.
Then of course there were these creepy wind up toys. Seriously. Who the fuck would think these would be a good toy to give a child? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good creepy clown as much as anyone, but even I think that lil wind-up clown is too fucking creepy. No wonder turn of the Century England produced such twisted folks that Jack The Ripper was able to blend in so well.