The Woman in Black ✮✮
Haunting of Eel House
Daniel Radcliffe is up to his neck in ghosts in the doggedly old-fashioned “The Woman in Black.” Only this time the spectral presences are not nearly as friendly or mischievous as those banging about Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Radcliffe doesn’t have a magic wand to ward them off. Little matter. Radcliffe as a baby-faced solicitor has things well in hand. To quote the theme to “Ghostbusters,” he ain’t afraid of no ghosts!
Produced by Hammer Films, UK’s legendary fright studio, and adapted from the novel and long-running stage play of the same title, Radcliffe’s first post-Potter outing is set on a tidal island in northern England at the turn-of-the-century. Thanks to excellent set design and somber shots of the surrounding marsh, this new chiller is plenty atmospheric, in the style of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe series (“Tomb of Ligeia,” etc.). It’s just not all that scary ‒ unless you find rattling doorknobs and dead children’s faces pressed to frosty windows scary.
Like the principal characters in the haunted house classics ‒ “The Innocents” and “The Orphanage” leap to mind ‒ Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps is damaged from a recent tragedy and, therefore, particularly susceptible to things that go bump in the night. Ignoring the warnings of hostile townsfolk, he makes his way to Eel Marsh House to set the recently deceased owner’s papers in order. No sooner than he brushes away a few cobwebs and pulls the drapes he begins to hear screams and see the eponymous figure in black veil, who, it turns out, is exacting revenge for the loss of her child.
Though he looks barely old enough to shave and fairly swims in his Edwardian waistcoat, Radcliffe acquits himself well enough in a role that calls for little beyond running up and down stairs and rummaging about in dusty wardrobes. Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer co-star as the only friendly folks in the village. McTeer brings some much-needed energy to the otherwise polite doings by occasionally lapsing into a trance and carving cryptic messages into the dining room table. The most unnerving moments include a face that for a split second rocks into view and a child that’s coughed up from his marshy grave and, a la “The Monkey Paw,” comes a-calling; the silliest, Radcliffe’s nighttime bath in the bog.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK ✮✮ With Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer. Directed by James Watkins; scripted by Jane Goldman from the novel and play. 95 min. PG-13 (for rather polite supernatural horror)