By Todd Allen
Last night, I had occasion to take in a preview of Daniel Radcliffe’s first adult film vehicle (no, I’m not counting “My Boy Jack” towards that). “The Lady in Black” is adapted (somewhat creatively, I gather) from the 1983 Susan Hill novel by director James Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goodman (who Beat readers will likely remember from Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class and Stardust). No more wizards and spells for Radcliffe as he finds himself in over his head dealing with a vengeful spirit.
While this is a horror movie, at it’s heart, The Woman in Black is a date movie. This is a carefully constructed and highly manipulative film. You have all sorts of female demographic appeals strewn about the film: poor, sad widowed Daniel Radcliffe — struggling to look after his son. Lots of children in danger. A Gothic old haunted house that’s cut off every day when the road to it floods. Lifetime Movie Network, take me away!
Except, for all that demographic targeting, this is actually a really scary movie. Watkins uses every manipulative trick in the book to make you jump. Music setting the creepy mood? Check. Sudden noise out of nowhere? Double check. Cut to something suddenly appearing? Triple check. Watkins is incredibly effective playing the usual suspense games. You _are_ going to jump several times during this movie. You’ll know that something’s about to happen. You (about half the time) have an approximate idea what’s going to happen. And you still jump. That there is skill.
The plot, in very broad strokes is that lawyer Radcliffe, still not handling the loss of his wife very well and half an inch from losing his job, is sent out to settle the affairs of a country estate whose owner has recently died. Nobody in the town wants him there. The local solicitor tries to send him home. And there’s something in that isolated old estate. Something malevolent that doesn’t like children.
In terms of cast, this is the Daniel Radcliffe show. There is no co-star. Ciarán Hinds probably has the most screen time, aside from Radcliffe and does well enough as a skeptic whose fallen victim to the occult happening and doesn’t really want to admit it. No, this is about Radcliffe slowly realizing that there’s a reason all the locals are afraid of that old estate and anyone who goes there. Radcliffe pulls it off well enough.
I have mixed feeling about this film. Yes, I jumped a few times, but I resented that it felt like I was being led around by my nose while jumping. It felt a little on the cheesy side at times. I’m not the natural market for children in danger movies and some of that emotional manipulation didn’t do it for me. I also did not at all care for the ending, half of which you see coming and half of which… Lifetime Movie Network. I’m torn between giving it a rental or a theater nod for horror lovers.
On the other hand, if you need a date movie — if you need a movie that’s creepy as all get out, will make your date jump and will make your date cling to you — yeah, this is a REALLY good movie to take your date to for that.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.