"The Woman in Black" is a solid British ghost story in which Daniel Radcliffe bids adieu to his Harry Potter persona while his character of Arthur Kipps wonders whether he's bidding farewell to his senses.
There's no better setting for the story than Victorian England, what with its gloomy mansions, creepy cemeteries, fog and, at least here, a village in which townspeople abide by superstition and suspicion.
Kipps is a lawyer who continues to grieve after his wife has died in childbirth with his son, who is now 4 years old. He is dispatched to a small village to settle the estate of Alice Drablow at Eel Marsh House (the very name is enough to give you the creeps). He arrives in the town of Crythin Gifford and is instantly greeted with barely civil words: The innkeeper says there is no room. Still, the man's wife allows Arthur to stay in the attic.
Finally, Arthur is befriended by a couple named Sam and Elizabeth Daily (Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer). Sam drinks quite a bit, and Elizabeth ... well, let's just say she has not recovered from the disappearance of their son.
Arthur decides to stay in Eel Marsh House and finds more than he bargained for. He hears whispers, sees a rocking chair moving for no reason at all and sees the ghost of the Woman in Black, which seems to be a malevolent presence.
Crythin Gifford is not a good place to grow up. The problem is, many children don't grow up there. They meet unspeakable and/or inexplicable deaths, and Arthur is a witness to two of these. Sam continues to assure Arthur that the tales the villagers whisper among themselves are nonsense, but Arthur, at last, must believe his own eyes as he is assailed by the wail of the Woman in Black and haunted by frightening sights and sounds that will unnerve the viewer, too.
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I must warn potential audience members that this British movie is not afraid to do what is usually not done in American films: It depicts the deaths of children. Its tone is grim and that's not surprising because its production company is Hammer Films, long well-known in England for horror movies.
I really like the way director James Watkins keeps the atmosphere tense, with some respectable "Boo!" moments and a sense of dread that lessens in some scenes but never completely absents itself. The interesting plot, along with its famous star, deserves to scare up a solid following for this ghost tale.