Horror Movies

THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Surprisingly solid gothic horror movie

The classic Gothic horror film is immortal, much like the monsters it brings to life.

Radosław Pisula

11 March 2024

THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Surprisingly solid gothic horror movie

Often it seems dead, torn apart by successive new subgenres of horror that kill the dense atmosphere and the associated feeling of fear, replacing it with gallons of senselessly spilled blood, guts strewn everywhere, and breasts pumped to the limit. Yet it always finds a way to return and scare us again.

In this way, the Hammer studio, towards the end of the 1950s, when Hollywood was dominated by films combining horror with science fiction, featuring giant insects mutated by atomic energy or aliens, skillfully brought back to the cinema screens gothic horrors saturated with classic monsters and ghosts. Now, decades after its heyday, the Hammer studio is once again trying to evoke, if only for a moment, the classic horror atmosphere with The Woman in Black.

The Woman in Black

In The Woman in Black, an adaptation of the book of the same title by Susan Hill, we meet Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who, after the death of his wife, raises his son. Professional matters lead him to a sleepy Victorian-era town, where he is to handle the estate affairs of a recently deceased house owner at Eel Marsh House. Upon arrival, the protagonist encounters a very cold reception from the locals. However, his greatest concern arises from his encounter with a woman dressed in black and the sudden deaths of children associated with her. To uncover the town’s secrets and the terrifying woman, the protagonist will have to investigate the abandoned house on the marshes and, most importantly, survive.

The Woman in Black Daniel Radcliffe

The Woman in Black returns to the absolute basics and classic conventions of horror films. Here, we have a small English town bathed in fog and mud, hiding a terrifying secret; intimidated residents wanting to drive away the stranger; a protagonist who, like Jonathan Harker from Dracula, must deal with an unknown and ominous place; a haunted and gloomy house; a ghost with a disturbingly interesting modus operandi, and children. Oh yes, children and horror are one of the most suggestive combinations aimed at instilling fear in the viewer.

The Woman in Black Daniel Radcliffe

If you’re a fan of torture porn-style horror, like the Saw series or hundreds of other slashers where a masked killer slaughters copulating teenagers, then you can safely skip watching The Woman in Black. You won’t see blood gushing here. The director also minimally resorts to throwing screaming masks, twisted in nightmare grimaces, or other cheap tricks at the viewer; however, when it does happen, it’s done intelligently and keeps the viewer in constant suspense, so we don’t have time to get used to it. Therefore, the film’s biggest plus is the drawn-out scenes of anticipation for something big and terrifying. While Radcliffe’s character explores the abandoned house, even the slightest noise can send shivers down your spine, supported by excellent set design (the incredible Gothic design of the house, which becomes a character even more important than Kipps himself), good use of light and shadow, and music that fits well with the presented convention and doesn’t interfere with following the events, which is often a flaw in many contemporary horrors. Even silence is an integral part of the soundtrack. The cinema lacks such suggestive atmosphere building and a certain intimacy, for which the British director deserves applause. Thanks to this, even such a conventional plot can absorb us.

The Woman in Black

However, the biggest mystery of The Woman in Black before its premiere was not the secret of the main monster of the film, but how Daniel Radcliffe would fare in the role of a protagonist who isn’t named Potter, which was likely the main reason for the huge popularity of the film in the British Isles. The actor performed his task correctly, but unfortunately, it cannot be denied that he is not a virtuoso in his profession. He still has some remnants of his role as a young wizard and a set of skills acquired over 10 years, at least. Additionally, it’s incredibly difficult to believe that this kid can be a respected lawyer and the father of a four-year-old—he should rather be worried about his life when facing a hauntingly child-adverse, eerie antagonist. However, it’s good that the actor was trying to quickly break away from his established image. There is hope that one day we will see him not as Potter, but as a character he portrays.

The Woman in Black Daniel Radcliffe Janet McTeer

Somewhere in the background of the plot, there is also the theme of the loss of a loved one and coping with it, but let’s not kid ourselves; it’s not ambitious. We’re dealing with a classic Gothic ghost film. Those who enjoy films about monsters from the Universal studio, filled with the mysterious atmosphere of Val Lewton’s works, or older creations of the Hammer studio, will feel at home, breathing in the moist air surrounding the foggy marshes. It’s disturbing, intriguing, and the woman in black herself is an incredibly charismatic and fresh character for such a clichéd film. On the other hand, the film is peppered with many absurd situations, and sometimes, especially in the first act, it can be tedious. Ultimately, however, The Woman in Black proves to be a genuinely solid horror film that can pleasantly jolt the nerves and surprise with a fairly bold ending. If, of course, you can forget that the main character is not played by Harry Potter, but by an actor named Radcliffe.

Could the Hammer studio be experiencing a renaissance after many years? Let’s hope so, because such a correct attempt to revive cinematic ghosts, together with the very good American Horror Story series, bodes well for the entire genre. Film horror lives on and has not yet shed its last drop of blood.