Now that the eighth film of the “Harry Potter” series has come and gone, the young British actor seems to be on the verge of a new chapter in his career. He has already earned notice for his work onstage in plays like “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” and “Equus.”
But with the new movie, “The Woman in Black,” Radcliffe has tried something new. He tries his hand at horror in this story of a widower who finds himself unraveling a mystery in a haunted small town.
The story, which is based on the novel by Susan Hill, opens with three young girls who—all of a sudden—climb onto their window ledges together and jump to their deaths. These young girls are haunted by something but viewers aren’t sure what it is.
Years later, Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe)—a widower father and up-and-coming lawyer —arrives in town to settle a woman’s estate. The house where she lived, though, is haunted and many townspeople warn Kipps to stay aware. The young attorney ignores them, choosing instead to spend more time in the abandoned home. He even opts to stay in the house overnight despite nearly everyone’s insistence that he leave the town immediately.
The ghost who has been haunting the town and her former home is—as the title suggests– a woman dressed all in black. For years, local children have been dying mysteriously and many believe that the ghost is responsible. “Don’t go chasing shadows, Arthur,” one local tells the main character to no avail. In his attempt to settle the estate, Arthur finds himself drawn into the mystery of why the woman in black continues to haunt the local families.
The film is full of creepy scenes as title character terrorizes Kipps and the locals. Unfortunately, these sequences settle too easily for easy thrills. Instead of genuine suspense or real terror, the film scares audiences with a combination of creepy music and gotcha moments where people and things pop out at the main character. These scenes may work for some viewers but for others, these moments merely hide the fact that there is no depth to the story itself.
No compelling narrative or characters exist to compel audiences to care who lives and who dies.
In terms of Radliffe himself, the role seems too big for him at this point in the career. With a young child—who looks to be about 6 or 7 years old—Radcliffe feels way too young. The young performer was always going to grow up as an actor but “The Woman in Black” asks him to grow up too quickly. The actor went from playing a teenage wizard into paying a 20-something widower. Actors like Drew Barrymore graduated from being child stars into taking on more adult roles but they did it in a couple of years, not a few months.
Radcliffe should have started out slowly instead of taking on a role that was originally written for someone in their late 20’s.
Overall, “The Woman in Black” is a disappointing ghost story. If the characters had been more-dimensional or the scares had been more than simply “gotcha” moments, this story could have soared but this thriller settles for much less.
The Woman in Black is rated PG-13 for scary moments and violent images of death.