In his first post-Harry Potter role, Daniel Radcliffe must prove that he’s no longer a bespectacled adolescent, and he’s ready for adult roles. He has chosen well.
“The Woman in Black” takes place in the early 1900s, when a man of 22 — Radcliffe’s age — was an honest-to-goodness grown-up.
Not only does Radcliffe look grown, he looks positively haunted. And he’s not the only one.
Solicitor Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a widower with a young son. On the verge of losing his job, he is dispatched to a small, remote village to settle the affairs of one Mrs. Drablow, of Eel Marsh House.
In a very nice touch, the house stands far away from the rest of the town, connected by a lonely road that routinely floods at high tide. Vehicles can only traverse it at certain times of the day.
Right away, the townspeople eyeball Arthur with suspicion, dropping strong hints that he should return to London.
Fortunately, he befriends Mr. Daily (Ciarán Hinds), who owns the town’s only automobile. Mr. Daily and his wife (Oscar nominee Janet McTeer) lost a child some years back, and Mrs. Daily seems to have gone a little around the bend because of it.
When Arthur gets to Eel Marsh House, however, he discovers the horrible reason for all the weird behavior.
For its first half-hour, “The Woman in Black” relies on some pretty rusty tricks. Figures slide by in the foreground or background, and the soundtrack explodes when things jump out from the darkness.
Sophisticated spectators might think they have this chiller licked.
But when Arthur decides to spend the night in the house, he finds that — despite Mr. Daily’s warning — he’s chasing shadows. One shadow leads to the next, and each spooky event logically leads to an even spookier one.
Director James Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman, who adapted Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, are clever enough to focus on the mystery behind the hauntings — and then clever enough to reveal the mystery in the middle of this nighttime smorgasbord of frights.
Finally, they wind the tale up quickly, before viewers can catch their breath.
“The Woman in Black” is an old-fashioned ghost story, albeit with modern-day special effects, and its structure isn’t too unique or surprising. But the filmmakers understand the simple power of ghosts, and they deliver a tense and chilling spook-fest.
The Woman in Black ★★★
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer
Written by Jane Goldman
Directed by James Watkins
Running time 1 hour, 35 minutes