Re:View – ‘The Woman In Black’
I realise I forgot to post this a while back. Better late than never, I say;
In recent months scary house stories have made a return. We’ve had ‘The Pact’, ‘The House At The End Of The Street’, ‘Sinister’, ‘The Innkeepers’, ‘Penumbra’, ‘Dream House’ and ‘Intruders’, to name just a few. I found Ti West’s much-touted ghost story ‘The Innkeepers’ a real disappointment; although the setting was nicely realized, the leading girl was incredibly annoying and the haunting was entirely free of plot smarts.
I’d read Susan Hill’s book of ‘The Woman In Black’ many years ago and the play, a cheap two-hander that went into the Fortune Theatre to fill a programming gap (two actors, low lighting, a loud noise and an ASM in a mask who pops up in the Dress Circle) has now been running half as long as ‘The Mousetrap’, thereby closing off that lovely little theatre forever.
I can see why the film is a success. Every possible Victorian ghost story trope is laid on with a trowel; a secluded mansion, a bereaved husband, dead children, dimly lit rooms, creaking doors, creepy old toys, rolling mists, a veiled woman, rhubarbing locals who warn the hero away; it’s a sort of greatest hits package, an elegant throwback which was beyond parody even in the 1950s, and a moderately efficient one which appealed to newbies in such numbers that it became a huge US hit for Hammer, which is music to my heart.
But what the film does lack is any real resonance, anything oblique, off-kilter or unresolved. It’s solid, safe and neat, not helped by a script as flat as its landscape from the proficient, ubiquitous but dead hand of Jane Goldman. However, Goldman (or perhaps the director) did allow for something special – a long centre section of wordless creeping about that reminded me of Freddie Francis’s ‘The Skull’. The film’s other saving grace is a superb performance from Daniel Radcliffe, who appears genuinely bereft and haunted throughout.
Fun for all the family, then – there’s just nothing that grips and haunts in the way that ‘The Orphanage’ or ‘The Others’ did.