The Woman in Black James Watkins

The Woman in Black James Watkins
Ostensibly, the titular woman in black is a female scorned. She appears and disappears without a sound, occasionally making an appearance in drag make-up and seems to have mixed and perplexing motivations that vacillate between murdering children and arbitrarily scaring uppity British lawyers for the sake of shits and giggles. Seemingly, her rationale is primarily that of didactics, chiefly those of Judeo-Christian ethics and the importance of adhering to tradition and superstition.

Her scorn is the central mystery of this overly strained haunted house drama, giving the troubled and tormented Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) something to do when he isn't shuffling around papers in a lawyerly fashion. The townspeople have warned him not to stay at the spooky old mansion on the other side of the marsh, but Arthur doesn't buy superstition, much like the rich and stubborn Daily (Ciarán Hinds), whose idiosyncratic wife (Janet McTeer) has a tendency to shake around and carve weird crap into tables and trees.

Why Arthur repeatedly trudges back and forth between the village and the mansion is anyone's guess, especially considering that mud babies pop out of beds and furniture inexplicably moves around in the mansion, signalling the death of yet another baby or child. But logical motivation is secondary to the endless series of predictable jump scares involving creepy children's toys and ghostly reflections.

In fact, none of the scares pertain to the plot, which rapidly goes off the deep end when Arthur decides that resolving a 100-year-old mystery is more important than physically getting to his endangered son. Sure, a couple of spooky sequences involving a rocking chair and a locked door generate minor chills, but they don't serve any purpose to the central mystery, or even the heavy-handed religious pedagogy.

And since Daniel Radcliffe isn't particularly convincing as a leading man, we're left with repeated close-ups of a clown toy to draw us into the narrative, waiting patiently for the next in an endless series of quiet build-ups to a cheesy jolt scare. It's sort of like watching the Halloween episode of any prime time soap. (Alliance)