"WOMAN in Black" stars Daniel Radcliffe as a Victorian solicitor whose visit to a rural village unleashes a vengeful spirit.
The townsfolk are openly hostile, and we wonder: Is it because he has awakened a dormant evil that stalks local children, or is it because he's a solicitor?
Sometimes it's hard to tell, but in "The Woman in Black," it's definitely the former.
Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is in town to settle the affairs of a deceased woman whose dour island mansion contains mounds of unresolved paperwork, and also the rather spiteful ghost of a grieving mother.
Her unresolved grief becomes a bony, beckoning hand that reaches into the world of the living, seducing children into acts of apparent suicide.
Kipps becomes consumed by the ghost's motives and backstory (he himself is a widower who believes his dead wife watches over him) and wonders if there might be a way to appease this angry spirit.
To that end, he spends many hours in the house alone, carte blanche for director James Watkins to go on a haunted house "Boo!" bender - squawking crows fly out of chimneys, ghoulish faces appear in windows or sneak up behind Radcliffe, figures pop up in the fog, spectral handprints mist the glass. Each gimmick (get ready) is accompanied by a supersonic orchestral blast. I haven't seen this many people jump out of their seats since "Jack and Jill," although in this case, people returned.
There's a lot of borrowing here. Even the retro horror revival ("Insidious," "Drag Me to Hell," "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark") is trendy (the movie is released under the revived Hammer Films horror banner, but it's based on a long-running London play).
There are also moody details that surprise. High marks to the movie's effective use of vintage (or recreated) Victorian toys, creepy dolls that suggest the residual presence of departed children, and in some cases look like them.
How does Harry Potter do as leading man? He's young for the part, too young to play a widower with a 5-year-old, placed among peers like Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer.
On the plus side, nobody says "horcrux."