How scared you actually want to be by this film should determine whether you go to see it at the cinema or not. You will be scared. That goes without saying. Huge sections of this film are set in a creepy Victorian house, with little or no lighting and you are set up to jump and scream at every opportune moment. What I am talking about is whether you want to be unnerved or terrified!
At the cinema the best you can hope for is unnerved. There will be a tense silence over everyone in the large room as Daniel Radcliffe walks through the house investigating every noise and weird shadow he can find. Suddenly something will jump out or start playing and the whole cinema will jump. Everyone will then turn to their friends and say “that was scary” or “I just jumped out of my skin” and everyone will have a little laugh. That little laugh, fifteen times, will kill the atmosphere created for this film.
If you were on your own or even just with a friend or partner, that tension will remain. You will be watching with the lights off and then you will jump and scream and rather than laugh, you or the person with you will hold you ten times tighter and maybe even close their eyes (like my girlfriend did). This means rather than being unnerved by the tense, creepy moments where The Woman in Black suddenly appears out of the shadows screaming, you will actually be pant-wettingly terrified by them. Your choice!
Regardless of where you see the film though, you will jump. This film has huge sections specifically designed to make you leap off your chair or momentarily stop your heart and this is where the film is most effective. The fact it is set in the Victorian period means that it has the perfect excuse to only be lit by candlelight and to have every single floorboard creak as you step on it. You don’t have to try to find a reason to place the hero in the creepy old house because every house during the Victorian period is creepy!
As long as you go to see The Woman in Black to be scared and to jump at the slightest sound then you will enjoy it. I’ve always found films where the terror or danger is implied and hinted at rather than being obvious and viewed outright. I will always prefer a good ghost story over a slasher film. In fact I wouldn’t classify The Woman in Black as horror at all but actually “scary ghost story.” There is no real monster to run from or be scared off. The Woman in Black is terrifying and something to fear but she is at her most frightening when you can’t see her. Some of the biggest scares actually involve moments and objects completely unrelated to The Woman in Black at all.
The ghost story is engaging and interesting. The plot is quite transparent but the delivery is perfect. It drip feeds key parts of information slowly and intertwines it with the slow building, tension focused, scare sections very well. None of the moments where Daniel Radcliffe is creeping around the house seem forced and even though I was often questioning why he was walking towards the sound of loud knocking in an upstairs bedroom, that was probably because I would have run away like a little girl, not because it was implausible to investigate.
Daniel Radcliffe was actually a very good choice for the role. I completely forgot that he is most famous for playing a boy wizard. He does seem quite young when expecting us to believe he has a son but as soon as he reaches the small village he is investigating and begins to uncover the mystery of The Woman, you never think of his youth again. If he can make a film that has no link with magic or supernatural as his next movie, he might just outlive Potter yet.
My only major criticism with the film is the ending. It felt slightly forced, as if there was no real way to effectively finish the film. It is a small gripe but the film could have lost the last five minutes or so and still had a decent and satisfying resolution to the whole story.
Overall, you will be scared. You will jump at least ten times and I would suggest if you want to get the most out of the film and how truly terrifying it could be, wait until it is released on DVD and watch it alone in a dark room. Don’t blame me when you can’t sleep afterwards though…
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)