Perhaps what’s most noticeable about The Woman in Black is that it is Gothic Horror. It un-apologetically so and it is a fine and darn near pitch perfect example of it too. One often hears the word atmosphere associated with movies, if you’ve ever wondered what people mean by that watch this movie.
I have frequently written about the teaser scene in a horror film, the quick scare at the very beginning to give the audience a jolt before building the story and characters. Not only does this one tie-in very closely, which is important but it’s very memorable, brilliantly shot and staged.
The drama of this tale despite its shocks is rather subsumed. It isolates its protagonist effectively and allows him the time to feel the place, find information and get intimations about what this place is really like. His story is also well and clearly defined early on and adds an element of necessity to the story which is key as the question of “Why don’t they just leave?” is one horror films frequently have to contend with.
The film uses practically every element at its disposal to add to the tension. It has the unwanted outsider aspect without overdoing it, the location plays a role as does the set design. The isolation of the character allows all the jump scares to more or less work because he’s usually spooked and there’s nothing done aimed solely at the viewer. Everything becomes a chore and an obstacle that makes the coming events have even more impact and the stakes rise consistently throughout.
The film is further supported by tremendous ensemble work. Horror films typically get the short shrift acting-wise. With such a tale as this the actors really need to sell it and work well with one another as interactions are at a premium. The cast is lead by Daniel Radcliffe whose growth as a performer has been something to watch. This may not be the character or project one would’ve expected to start the next phase of his career but that’s the genius of it. It’s a character and it’s a subdued work not a tentpole, regardless he sells it. Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer also shine in disparate but crucial supporting roles. Not to be overlooked are the ensemble of children in this film who almost always play in crucial scenes and are a big factor.
When I spoke of jump scares earlier there is an implied allusion to sound design there which I will address here. Now I typically take issue with scares based mostly on the sheer volume of the accompanying sound effect but this film seems to have a progressive plan. Not only are these jolts always accompanied by a creepy visual but they also go down decibel-wise as the film moves on, indicating a decided plan, which works. Once the movie has you it needn’t try as hard.
There are few things that can match a well-made Gothic horror film, an excellently crafted one is nearly untouchable. This film is the former, a truly special and brilliant horror film.