January 29, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 38°F


‘The Woman in Black’: Mystifying horror fights through fog

In his first major film role since “Harry Potter,” Daniel Radcliffe wipes all thoughts of the boy wizard from viewers’ minds in his new role as a somber, curious young lawyer chasing shadows in James Watkins’ “The Woman in Black”.
Set in the early 1900s, the film follows Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a young father whose wife died in childbirth, as he travels to a country village to handle the estate of the deceased Alice Drablow. The house is surrounded by a gloomy marsh, drowning it in fog and making it inaccessible to outsiders at high tide. Arthur catches glimpses of a woman dressed in black watching him, though the villagers insist the house is deserted. Sam (Ciaran Hinds), the one villager who befriends Arthur, insists Arthur’s mind is playing tricks on him and he is only seeing shadows. However, Arthur continues to visit the house to not only complete his assignment, but also to uncover the secrets of the mysterious woman.
Radcliffe’s costume and pale makeup help him naturally blend into the setting. The unsaturated colors and the intricate set details allow for a convincing portrayal of the
Edwardian time period.
However, Radcliffe is the only person on screen throughout the majority of the film, and he has relatively few lines for so much screen time. The lack of real human interaction during portions of the film contributes to the feeling of isolation while he is at the estate, but the silence doesn’t allow Radcliffe to show off his acting range beyond the realm of visual terror and depression.
Typically, horror movies rely on nighttime scenes and darkness to create terror and suspense. “The Woman in Black” instead uses the setting’s  fog and broad daylight to create suspenseful scenes. For example, the first time Arthur gets caught in the fog outside of the estate, he hears women and children screaming around him, but he cannot place the source of the sound in the disorienting mist. Inside the house, many of the most shocking moments occur with sunlight streaming through the windows.
Despite the refreshing concept of horror in daylight, the film depends mostly on stereotypical scare tactics. Arthur repeatedly sees the woman in black, subjecting the audience to suspenseful scenes involving total silence before a shocking reveal. Faces suddenly appear in windows, and creepy wind-up dolls come to life on their own. These repetitive instances of terror, though effective at first, drag the film along without plot significance until the last half hour, making the middle portion of the film dull.
Suspense aside, the main source of fear in the film comes from moments involving children. Early on in the film after Arthur first sees the woman in black, a little girl who poisons herself dies violently in his arms. The film’s tendency to feature dying, ghostly and possessed children will no doubt cause viewers to cringe in horror.
Despite a lagging rising action, the movie succeeds in captivating the audience with the help of some shocking sequences and an innovative use of setting in this tale of betrayal, revenge and a refusal to forgive.