The Woman in Black: After a successful life in the theatre, terrifying audiences for 23 years, the film adaptation is shockingly unscary


After a successful life in the theatre, terrifying audiences for 23 years, the film adaptation of The Woman in Black is shockingly unscary

The Woman in Black (12A)

Verdict: Shockingly unscary

Susan Hill’s horror novella about a young, widowed solicitor being traumatised within a very, very haunted house has already had a successful life in the theatre, where it has been scaring audiences for more than 23 years. I am sorry to report that the movie version is nowhere near as terrifying.

The most frightening thing about it is how terrible Daniel Radcliffe is as a leading actor. In his first post-Harry Potter role, he’s dull and inexpressive.

The part requires a star who looks as if he is being tormented to death. What it gets is a young man who seems frozen with first-night nerves.

In the movie, where little is left to the imagination, we remain fatally uninvolved. Its an uninspired compendium of haunted house clichs, with a twist that barely deserves to be called one

In the movie, where little is left to the imagination, we remain fatally uninvolved. Its an uninspired compendium of haunted house clichs, with a twist that barely deserves to be called one

The most frightening horror films of recent years — and I’m thinking of The Others, The Orphanage and the under-appreciated 1480 — all had fine central performances, by Nicole Kidman, Belen Rueda and John Cusack. Radcliffe isn’t in the same class.

Just as disappointing is the script by Jane Goldman. In the theatre, audiences become complicit in the tale’s unfolding because they have to use their imagination.

In the movie, where little is left to the imagination, we remain fatally uninvolved. It’s an uninspired compendium of haunted house clichs, with a twist that barely deserves to be called one.

Up-and-coming British director James Watkins orchestrates proceedings efficiently, but the shocks are tame — the 12A certificate is itself a giveaway — and he brings nothing original to the genre.

The Woman In Black is not a patch on Watkins’s last venture into horror, Eden Lake, where the cast looked as if it had been recruited on merit, not with one eye on the box office.

I wouldn’t wish to reveal too much, but the gradually revealed back story begs more questions than it answers. Why is the dead woman in black determined to wreak so much havoc

Instead of being plausibly frightening, her behaviour comes across as a preposterous over-reaction, even for a disgruntled ghost.