Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a young lawyer forced to leave his four year old son and travel to the remote village of Criffin Gifford to attend to the affairs of the recently deceased owner of Eel Marsh House. Whist working alone in the mansion, Kipps uncovers a dark secret in the village’s past, but is constantly frustrated in his attempts to find out the truth by the villagers who wish to keep it buried. Does the mysterious woman in black have anything to do with the shadow that hangs over the town? When those closest to Kipps are threatened, he must find a way to break the cycle of terror or face losing all he holds most dear.
At first glance the film is a traditional exposition of the well-worn haunted house horror story, but one that it soon becomes clear has unashamedly emotional depths. Initially Radcliffe is not entirely convincing as a widowed father, despite his real-life godson, Misha Handley, playing Arthur Kipp’s young son Joseph. However he vastly improves as the film progresses resulting in him carrying the film brilliantly for 20 minutes without any dialogue. Moreover, despite spending 10 years in the skin of Harry Potter, impressively the boy wizard never breaks through into Arthur Kipps’ persona but instead Radcliffe forms a completely new well-rounded character.
Out of an exquisite ensemble cast Ciarán Hinds (Mr Daily) gives a wonderfully understated performance as a sceptical but supportive friend in a strange place, but Janet McTeer (Mrs Daily) steals every scene in which she appears with her disturbing performance of a woman possessed. Special mention though must go to the costume and make-up departments for avoiding all clichéd images of ghosts and making the woman in black the creepiest spectre on film for a long time, aided in no small way by Liz White’s eerie presence.
The director, James Watkins, has created a masterclass in how to drip-feed information to the audience allowing them to build a full picture as to what is going on and reach the answer to the mystery independently of the cast. But expecting to be terrified throughout, the two thirds of the film only provided seven or eight fleeting scares but the next half hour evokes a completely creepy and terrifying feeling that lingers until the very end complete with its much unexpected twist.
Overall the film is a fascinating exploration of the afterlife and what happens to people when they die while maintaining a chilling atmosphere throughout. Although not a film for the faint hearted, to all those who enjoy being creeped out whilst enjoying an uncompromisingly good story, it is not to be missed.