Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same name, The Woman In Black (2012) is a Horror/ Drama/ Thriller set in the early 20th century England about a young widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps, who goes to a remote village to settle a real estate matter regarding a Manor only to find a mysterious Woman in Black that lives there, is causing panic amongst its villagers. Directed by James Watkins and Starring Daniel Radcliff, Ciaran Hinds and Janet Mc Teer as the principle cast.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliff) a widowed lawyer, who is obviously suffering from the death of his wife, is given a task by his law firm to go to a remote village to settle a matter regarding a Manor there. The moment Arthur arrives at the village he has a very uneasy feeling about not only the place but the people there who look at him suspiciously. Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds) a man he has met on the way to the village who is also a native there and his wife (Janet Mc Teer) are the only ones receptive towards him. Arthur makes a trip to the Manor which even though is part of the village, is cut off from the rest of it especially when the tide comes in briefly turning the land area into a little Island onto itself. He looks through a few things in the house mainly paper work and photos in an attempt to get on with his work, but he can’t help this eerie feeling he has about the place either, compounded even further when he spots a figure in BLACK outside looking in his direction. Despite a little fear and intrigue, he decides to stay overnight in the Manor in order to sort everything out ; when he does, everything about the Manor, the village and the mysterious figure in black becomes even clearer or darker I should say.
Famous for his work on Guy Ritchie’s Gangster flicks such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000) and Revolver (2005), Tim Maurice- Jones was summoned as the Director of Photography here in order to create this so dark a look, that it comes closer than any other colour film has in history to a Black and White one. In a Q and A for the film, Director James Watkins said he intended the film to be scary and even though set in the early 20th century, it shouldn’t feel like a period drama. Tim Maurice- Jones made sure you never forgot you are watching a horror film, from the light but dark feel in the 1st scene involving the 3 girls all the way to Arthur’s frightening experiences at the Manor, the audience couldn’t possibly think that this was a period drama. Apart from the excellent use of lighting, film wise he used a 35 mm Kodak Vision 3 250 D 5207, Vision 3 200T 5213, Vision 3 500 T 5219 Film Stock in order to bring out the sharp, crisp look that the Director wanted in order to highlight the mixture of uneasiness and fright felt by Arthur at times (e.g. Watch Arthur looking down the hallway of the Manor). The use of film was actually key to this as even though digital photography has come a long way and you find many directors using them as an option, this is a prime example of where it could not be used as a substitute if you wanted to achieve this kind of old fashion, dark tone look, it just could not be done (e.g. Watch the last scene at the railway).
The setting could not be more perfect, from the houses, the village, the Manor to the rain inspired muddy areas, they all did their best to provide a haunting experience for not only Arthur but us as well. Locations used such as The Bluebell Railway provides a scary start to Arthur’s journey and other locations such as the suspicious village, the road to the Manor and the Manor itself, all subconsciously lets audiences know they aren’t in a comfortable position. Production Designer Kave Quinn, Art Director Paul Ghiriardani, and Set decorator Niamh Coulter definitely deserve a fantastic mention here for creating claustrophobia with the space available to them no matter the size of the room, (e.g. Watch Arthur in a particular room in the Manor) it was well done.
Visually The Woman in Black is absolutely stunning, it is a picture that is painted perfectly, be it the use of colour, type of paint brush, choice of scenery and choice of canvas they all worked extremely well. Daniel Radcliff wasn’t bad either; he does his best to shed the “Harry Potter” image and succeeds. Ciaran Hinds and Janet Mc Teer were brilliant as the wealthy couple of the village and are the stand out performers in this film. However the problem I had with the film was the pacing and build up to the moments. Horror films as essentially based on atmosphere, but they are stories nonetheless and in telling a story, the rest of the elements are equally important or audiences won’t fully be ready to be scared. The film no doubt had “Jump from behind the wall” moments and “all of a sudden things show up and happen” moments, but they happen too soon and at times gives me the feeling the Director wants me to be scared right now, right this minute instead of me getting to that place myself with his guidance. In my opinion Director James Watkins relied too much on the look of the film to create the impact of the story for him, instead of telling the story himself; which was the disappointment in it all where the film has an embarrassment of visual riches to work with.
Having said all that, I recommend you still watch this movie and find out for yourself if this kind of style suits you. Hopefully you get something out of it, if you did, then that’s great.