And like the dozens of ghouls and ghosts he spies from his perch inside a haunted mansion, Daniel Radcliffe is lifeless and transparent.
In the hoary horrorfest that is “The Woman in Black,” Daniel Radcliffe is haunted by the past. Everywhere the lad formerly known as Harry Potter turns he is doggedly pursued by the ghost of expectations in attempting to prove there is life for him outside Hogwarts.
How well he succeeds at erasing the Potter specter depends on how willingly you subscribe to the idea of the boy wizard being reborn as a baby-faced barrister holding court with a stubborn spirit bent on seeing the counselor and his 4-year-old son dead. Me, I wasn’t buying a second of it; bored stiff by the charismatically challenged Radcliffe and his wan attempts to reinvent himself as a leading man.
Like the dozens of ghouls and ghosts he spies from his perch inside a haunted mansion, Radcliffe is lifeless and transparent. His depth is as lacking as his appeal, as he sleepwalks his way through his portrayal of Arthur Kipps, an Edwardian-era London lawyer on the verge of being terminated due to his preoccupation with the death of his wife four years previous.
Radcliffe’s beyond-bland take on Kipps brings a whole new meaning to the notion of an attorney without a soul. Not only is Kipps’ job on the line when he is given a last-chance assignment to settle the affairs of a recently deceased dowager in the north-coastal village of Crythin Gifford, so are the lives of he and his child. Yet Radcliffe, miscast and looking silly in mutton chops and a 5 o’clock shadow, displays none of the urgency or dread that would seem to come naturally to any mortal in his untenable situation. His Kipps knows but one expression – blank.
But not as blank as a script by Jane Goldman (co-writer of the superhero flicks “X-Men: First Class” and “Kick-Ass”) that reduces Susan Hill’s oft-sourced 1982 novel to a skein of paranormal clichés more lethal than any disgruntled spirit. Old crows of all sorts and species swoop and holler, rocking chairs seemingly move on their own and a brood of dead children regularly appear in the disheveled garden. That’s not to mention all the sudden noises, cold chills and creepy townsfolk who make Kipps feel about as welcome as Mitt Romney at a Newt Gingrich rally.
Almost as frightening as the film’s predictability is the somnambulant pace set by director James Watkins (“Eden Lake”), who wastes exorbitant amounts of time using his camera to follow Kipps endlessly through the dark, decrepit halls of the overly eerie Eel Marsh House. It’s like strolling vicariously through one of those cheesy haunted houses charities conduct each Halloween, but without the frights.
At least Radcliffe’s walking is better than Radcliffe’s talking, which is drab and overly earnest, as he fails woefully to convey the sense of surprise and wonder one would expect of a man who has literally just seen a ghost. And not just any ghost mind you, but the one belonging to Jennet Humfrye (Liz White), a revenge-seeking spirit suspected of felling the village children with disturbing recidivism.
In his attempt to revive the famed Hammer studio banner, Watkins does succeed at sucking you into his tale, at least initially, with the spot-on mood he and director of photography Tim Maurice-Jones set with copious amounts of rain, fog and over-saturated colors. In conjunction, they cast an effectively gray pall over the entire proceedings. It also doesn’t hurt having Janet McTeer and Ciaran Hinds around as Kipps’ lone allies in his quest to find the source, and eradicate the ghost, or ghosts, responsible for the rash of child murders and suicides. But not even Jacob Marley could free the chains weighting down “The Woman in Black,” as it stumbles towards an ending so clunky it conjures more laughs than scares. And for fans of the genre, there’s no greater horror imaginable.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK (PG-13 for thematic material and violent/disturbing images.) Cast includes Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciaran Hinds. Directed by James Watkins. 2 stars out of 4