Review in a Hurry: Daniel Radcliffe is sent to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric who lived in a spooky old mansion. There, he sees a whole lotta dead people, but not the helpful kind that haunt Hogwarts.
This supernatural thriller has plenty scares and creepy atmosphere, but the plot could have used more surprises.
The Bigger Picture: When struggling lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliff) looks at his young son, he’s reminded of his wife who passed away during childbirth. So when the opportunity to settle the legal matters of an estate pops up he can’t afford to say no. Located in a marsh, the house is surrounded by water when the tide is high. (Who would build a place there?!) The local villagers are freaked out by this area and with good reason, it seems the old lady who lived there has come back from the dead to kill their children.
Based on Susan Hill’s novel, Black follows the beats of a traditional ghost story: the remote Victorian setting, the mystery surrounding the undead, and a protagonist that lacks the common sense to leave a haunted house. The script by Jane Goldman does make it clear that Arthur needs the money, but after he’s seen a third spirit, it’s time to find employment elsewhere.
Once the Woman in Black shows up, the fear factor goes way up. At first, she’s seen obscured. Then her black shadowed image fills the frame—impossible to ignore. It totally works.
Since the story, more specifically, the mystery surrounding just who the Woman in Black was isn’t all that hard to figure out, director James Watkins wisely relies on Radcliffe and all the twisted things he encounters to keep us on edge. Radcliffe still looks so young, even with facial hair, but he keeps things grounded.
As for those twisted things: there are a lot of wind-up toys that move on their own, stuffed animals that look off, things like that. Still, one of the scariest shots is an opened door that previously wasn’t.
Oh, and the ending is superb.
The 180—a Second Opinion: The scare tactics in the first half rely too heavily on amping the music up to 11. The visuals are genuinely creepy on their own, and the punched-up score can be grating.