The Woman in Black (2012)
James Watkins’ 2012 adaptation of The Woman in Black is quite a radical adaptation of Susan Hill’s story, yet it still manages to remain true to its central themes. Jane Goldman of Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class fame, has crafted a screenplay which is both innovative yet strangely traditional. She boldly revises the central character from contented husband to desolate widower; a move that adds a very bleak under current to the story. The more ghoulish elements of the narrative have been greatly enhanced and the film works the best when the eponymous character makes an appearance via jump scares. Despite a modest budget of $15 million, The Woman in Black went to make over $127,730,736 worldwide making it the most financially successful British horror film in 20 years.
The biggest asset and potentially the biggest stumbling block for The Woman in Black upon its release was the casting of Daniel Radcliffe. Could the actor make a credible transition into adult roles and leave the emotional baggage of his cinematic past behind him? For me, the answer is a definite yes. He is pleasantly plausible as the young lawyer, Arthur Kipps, mourning the recent loss of his wife and struggling with his relationship with his only child. Commissioned to administer the estate of Eel Marsh, he soon experiences supernatural goings on at house and finds a local village consumed with fear over an unusually high child death rate. Considering his performance is geared to be predominantly reactive to his surroundings, he acquits himself well.
There is a strong supporting cast, with Ciarán Hinds as Sam Daily, a local landowner who strives to rationalise the ongoing events until it becomes impossible to reject their true cause. His wife played by Janet McTeer, convincingly depicts a fey and traumatised mother. The production design follows in the Hammer tradition of appearing sumptuous irrespective of the budget and the cinematography of Tim Maurice-Jones is exceptionally atmospheric. One of the strongest assets of The Woman in Black is that it is maintains a pervasive atmosphere of disquiet. Director Watkins creates an unsettling atmosphere that is cleverly punctuated with the jolts the genre requires. In his previous film Eden Lake he showed a great understanding of the threat of violence, a skill he refines here using terror and discord instead.
The only minor misstep The Woman in Black makes is its ending, which revises the books original nihilistic outcome and offers a more redemptive conclusion. It’s still a stark ending to the story but it offers a degree of hope and emotional closure. Perhaps the producers felt this alteration would make the film more marketable for the international market. Certainly, the casting of Daniel Radcliffe did attract a younger demographic and the consensus was that an excessively downbeat ending my not be viable for such an audience. However, this tonal change, it is certainly not enough to spoil the proceeding hour and a half, which provides exactly the sort of thrill and shocks that movies of this idiom should do. Furthermore, the critical and popular success of The Woman in Black has most certainly helped make the Hammer brand accessible to a new audience. Let us hope the production company continue to produce films of this calibre.