Hammer Films are infamous for producing some of the finest horror films of all time. It dominated the horror scene from the 50s till the 1970s, when a saturated market and loss of funding caused the studio to close shop in the 1980s. In 2007 under new ownership, Hammer Films started producing films again, and 2012s The Woman in Black has been the most successful so far.
If you’ve read Susan Hill’s 1983 gothic horror novella, The Woman in Black, you’d probably have been eagerly awaiting the movie portrayal as directed by James Watkins. Hill writes in a traditional gothic style, and her tale of the ghost of a bitter woman, dressed in black, haunting a remote English village, definitely piles on the chills.
The plot follow a solicitor, Arthur Kipps, who must travel to Crythin Gifford, a remote market town on the north-east coast, to attend to the estate of a client, the late Mrs. Alice Drablow. Kipps installs herself in Drablow’s desolate Eel Marsh House, an isolated dwelling that can only be reached by a causeway during low tide.
While sorting through her things at the house, he encounters an increasingly terrifying series of occurrences, as well as sightings of The Woman in Black. The townspeople fear that a sighting of her means a child will die. No one in the town will talk about Mrs. Drablow or the Woman in Black, but Kipps begins to piece together the tragic events that led to this malevolent spirit haunting the town.
Although the film doesn’t keep exactly to the plot of the book, it definitely captures the gothic mood and chilling atmosphere of Hill’s novel. A post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe sports some fetching stubble for his portrayal of Arthur Kipps. Although it’s hard to get over the sense that he could be yelling expecto patronum any minute, his role is supported by a solid cast, including another Harry Potter star Ciaran Hinds as Sam Daily, a local landowner who takes Kipps under his wing, and Janet McTeer as Daily’s wife.
The Woman in Black is more about chills than gore, and I admit, in terms of the sheer uneasy feelings it invokes, I haven’t felt quite the same way about a film since Insidious. The ending, while not being quite the same as the book, carries the same gothic sense of finality and futility. This is a traditional gothic tale brought to life in a traditionally gothic film by the most traditional of gothic studios, and it’s done right. Highly recommended for your next gothic film night.