The Woman In Black (2012)
When Hammer re-appeared a couple of years ago, I was genuinely chuffed. I loved their approach to horror back in the seventies, predominantly creeping menace interlaced with intermittent bloodthirsty shock and awe. I just assumed this is what we'd be getting again. I'm a wistful old bugger when it comes to the British Film industry and I really wanted that kind of dark and forbidding gothic schlock back in my movie diary again. And then, 'The Resident' happened.
After Saatchi bought the company, my hopes were refreshed, even if nothing came of his investment. Only in the past couple of years, since that subsequent sale, has Hammer poked its head back above the production wall. 'Let Me In', a frankly completely avoidable remake of Swedish vampire thriller 'Let The Right One In' appeared and then divebombed, the passable 'Wake Wood' which was released to average reviews by critics and audiences and the aforementioned 'The Resident' have all gone to prove that along with the change of ownership, something more substantial had been lost; the ability to engage, thrill and scare the bejeezus out if its audiences. The closest thing I had come across to jolting life into, some would say, this peculiar sub-genre would have been Sam Raimi's 'Drag Me To Hell', even if the resemblance here doesn't bear too close scrutiny.
All of the elements and staples are present here, however. Rolling mists, deserted moorland, haunted houses and quietly apprehensive locals seep out from every scene. There are domestic household items covered in sheets that look like they could be hiding something more sinister, people spied from a distance that disappear when our leads' gaze is averted and then returns. All of this is wrapped up in a backstory that only the lead appears to know nothing about. Furtive glances and secretive, unspoken sordid histories are the order of the day here and the film turns up the cliches to maximum, with overkill in fact, as if proving that they really now know what they are doing, despite their previous efforts.
Adapted from Susan Hill's original novel, Jane Goldman has sprinkled a little bit of her stardust (sorry, couldn't help myself) on Hammer's work here. The movie is often actually scary, though this is from what is hinted at rather than what is actually shown. The repeated and fleeting visions of the eponymous woman are extremely effective, if not enitirely original. The cynic may suggest that this is 'horror by numbers' and this is true at times, but the level of immersion afforded to the viewer and the mood is admirable and this is testament to some great direction by James Watkins.
Radcliffe is, I will be the first to admit, surprsingly accomplished in the role of young lawyer Arthur Kipps and he is ably supported by a formidable and largely British cast. Personally, I guessed we had seen the back of him after the end of the Potter franchise, but it seems he refuses to stay in the big screen wilderness for too long. And this is good news for us here. He may not have been the first person you would have cast to carry the first decent Hammer horror film in nearly forty years, but it goes to show you never can tell. His performance is considered, measured, tense and riveting when it could easily have relapsed into farce or just good old fashioned over-acting.
In all, this is a breath of fresh air both for Hammer and for horror, depending on how old you are. If, like me, you are old enough to remember the hour long Hammer television series and a plethora of movies that defined a genre, this is not so much fresh, but more an homage to an old friend. After a series of mishaps, it seems that Hammer may well be back in step with what they do best. Scare.