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Movie Review: The Woman in Black
Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black. Picture: Roadshow.

If you love a good haunted house movie as much as I do, then you will squirm and squeal in delight at The Woman in Black, a dark, brooding and atmospheric spinechiller in the mode of The Others, The Sixth Sense and Paranormal Activity.

It's based on Susan Hill's 1982 book, which is set in Victorian England and was turned into a long-running West End play and a 1989 British TV movie that starred Adrian Rawlins, who played Daniel Radcliffe's ghostly father in the Harry Potter series.

So there's a ghostly symmetry to see Radcliffe embody the same character in his first post-Potter lead role. The clean-cut English actor still battles ghouls and things that go bump in the night here. I bet he wonders if he'll ever do any other kind of movie.

Potter - I mean Radcliffe - is Arthur Kipps, a young London lawyer mourning the loss of his wife during childbirth. He's sent to a tiny village with the very Potter-esque name of Crythin Gifford on the remote east coast of England. There, he must settle the affairs of Eel Marsh House, a spooky House on Haunted Hill-style mansion where three children have just jumped to their death from the attic. Nice.

The kids are thought to be the victim of the late Jennet Humfrye (Liz White), whose son died in an accident in a swamp near Eel Marsh House.

Yes, there's plenty of death in this eerie creep-show. It hangs around like a bad smell, like the pong of that dank swamp nearby. Or maybe that's the ghost of Humfrye herself - the vengeful woman in black - who the villagers suspect is taking revenge for her son's death on the town's tots.

As the woman in black strikes fear into the minds of the villagers, Kipps settles into the house for a few nights - which he may not survive.

Kipps' recent misfortune and the current paranormal activities may or may not be related. Yet even the most casual haunted house fan will realise that's the subtext, and it will have them playing along and trying to solve the mystery before the final fright.

It's refreshing to have that play-along conceit, just as you do in the recent Paranormal Activity films (which are this generation's version of haunted house movies).

It's also refreshing to see a horror film without the blood and guts which have blighted the genre in recent years. Instead, director James Watkins (Lake Eden) and writer Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass) expertly deploy a volley of visual and aural effects which make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Especially good is the use of pacing to build tension.

Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer do fine jobs in their supporting roles as a sceptical local landowner and his grief-stricken wife.

The weak spot, sadly, is the predictability, especially for anyone well-versed in ghost story cliches or - worse - familiar with the book, telemovie or play. There's an almost Scooby Doo aspect to it. Is the vengeful mother? The shifty groundskeeper? Or the dead wife?

The other weak spot is Radcliffe, who is well-versed in emoting innocence, fear and shock but looks too young to be a father and often seems lost without Ron and Hermione hanging around.

That said, The Woman in Black is a spine-tingling - if not terrifying - ghost story which perfectly evokes the eerie atmosphere of the period. Best of all, it's got all the twists, turns, shocks and surprises you would expect of a darn good haunted house movie. <div class="endnote">

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