[FILM: Review] The Woman In Black
The Woman In Black
Hammer’s New House Of Horror
By Kelly Griffin
Think twice before you bring a 12-year-old along,” actor Daniel Radcliffe cautions me when we meet in London to talk about his new film – which is rated a rather low 12-years-and-over in the UK. “Although there’s no blood and there’s no gore, there’s certainly that fear of the darkness, and it’s the kind of stuff that will freak them out.”
Radcliffe is promoting The Woman In Black, a supernatural thriller based on Susan Hill’s popular 1983 ghost novel of the same name (the theatre adaptation of which has been a fixture on London’s West End). Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor and widower who is struggling to maintain a functional work and home life after the death of his wife during childbirth. In a last-ditch effort to redeem himself with his employer, he journeys to a coastal village on the east coast of England to wrap up the estate of a recently deceased widow. Once there, however, he finds the locals suspicious and hostile, and a shroud of secrecy almost as thick as the sea mists hanging over the widow’s decaying, marsh-bound mansion.
What unfurls is a seriously chilling tale – but as director James Watkins reasons: if you buy a ticket for a comedy, you want to laugh and, well, if you buy a ticket for a horror film, you want to get scared. Watkins, a talented young British filmmaker who made his directorial debut with the horror film Eden Lake, says his latest film won’t just make you jump – it’ll make your skin crawl. “There’s the cheap scares that every film has that make you jump, and then there’s the deeper chills – the ones that stay with people and really tingle. Those scares – the accumulative sense of dread ones – are what you really want to go for, and they are actually much harder to craft. But they’re the ones that really satisfy me.”
While ghost films often maximise a sense of claustrophobia by filming in 1.85:1, Watkins filmed in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 – more typical of westerns – which allowed him to frame the main action in the centre of the screen, while occasionally and ever so subtly toying with flashes of images on the periphery of the screen…
Radcliffe, meanwhile, spends a good deal of his screentime alone, with no other cast to bounce-off or react to – a difficult task for any actor, regardless of age or experience.
“[Doing scenes alone] can be frustrating as an actor,” he admits. “You get to a point where after about three days of not saying anything and just walking around, you sort of turn [to the director] and go ‘What am I doing?’” he laughs. “You do lose track of what you’ve been doing and you just have to put faith in the director1 that he’s getting what he needs.”
The other key challenge for Radcliffe was playing a withdrawn, world-weary widower – when his natural disposition is anything but. “My own natural energy is quite excited and energetic, and so one of the challenges was to just deaden that natural energy,” the young actor explains. “Any time James could see me say a line that had parts of my energy coming through the performance, he would step on set and just be like, ‘Okay we need to pull it back again and restrain and withhold.’”
Watkins says one key to adjusting Radcliffe’s demeanour was getting him to change the way he breathed. “Daniel breathes through his mouth generally and so for this we got him breathing through his nose. If you look at the Harry Potter films, you’ll notice he has his mouth slightly open in many of the scenes. I wanted a different energy from him in this film, and by breathing through his nose that created a slightly different headspace,” says Watkins.
While Radcliffe, unsurprisingly, was inundated with offers once his Potter contract finished, he says it was “an easy decision” to take this part over all the others as, quite simply, he loved the script. In fact, he received Jane Goldman’s (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) Woman in Black script on the final day of shooting The Deathly Hallows, and within 72 hours he had signed the contract.
The Woman In Black is produced by Hammer, the once-legendary British film studio that launched in 1934 and delivered a hugely successful run of horror films, including Dracula, The Curse Of Frankenstein, The Damned, and The Vampire Lovers. The studio fizzled out in the ‘80s, and a new group of people came on-board in the ‘00s, breathing fresh life into the company. Their first feature was the English-language adaptation of Let Me In (starring young Aussie Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz), followed by The Resident, Wake Wood – and now The Woman In Black.
As Executive Producer Tobin Armbrust says, “When Hammer started, if you really look at it, they actually defined the word ‘horror.’” With all the chills and thrills The Woman In Black inspires (and with the Jack-the-Ripper thriller Gaslight on the cards for 2014), the studio seems set to resurrect that reputation.
What: The Woman In Black
When: Released May 17