Feb. 3, 2012 at 9:13 AM ET
REVIEW: Pop quiz: You're a British lawyer sent out to a remote house to dig through a dead woman's paperwork. The town innkeeper tries to get rid of you and finally sticks you in the attic, a townsperson dies bloodily in your arms, and the isolated and rotting house where you have to work is full of creepy ghost sightings and deteriorated toys that belonged to a young dead boy.
Do you: a) Head back to London as fast as you can, even if it means getting another job?
b) Not only stay in the village, but skip the inn, and stay in the creepy house?
If you're Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe) in "The Woman in Black," you not only stay, but you let yourself into locked rooms and chase ghostly figures around until you find yourself diving body deep in a muddy swamp in search of a child's corpse. Come on. The dimmest house elf at Hogwarts would have used a disappearing spell within an hour of arriving.
Everything Kipps does, he does for one reason: It's in the script. If for the movie's sake his character needed to stay, he needed a more desperate reason than "I might lose my job" to convince us that he is choosing to hang around. He never seems too frightened, but then, it's hard to tell, since Radcliffe barely speaks a couple dozen words in the entire film. He doesn't act so much as react.
It's a shame, because "Woman in Black" offers a great setting for an old-fashioned ghost story, and it's produced by the reinvigorated Hammer Films, famed for spooky offerings. "Woman in Black" is based on a novel and long-running stage play that both sound terrifying, but that fear doesn't translate.
The imposing, crumbling house is separated from the village by a road that's regularly flooded and impassable, making it even more isolating. But you never feel panicked by this -- Kipps doesn't have a car, so there's no way he could leave the house anyway. And he seems to like it there, unfazed even when he rips off wallpaper to find a red-scrawled threat, or when he spots a skeletal face in the window of the supposedly empty house, or a trail of footprints where no one living has walked.
The commercials for "Woman in Black" show the theater audience, seen through night-vision green, jumping and shrieking as unseen things happen onscreen. Yes, there are jump scares in the movie, and lots of them. (Apparently in Britain, a raven fills the cat's role in the inevitable "What's that? Whew, just an animal!" scene.)
There's one scene where you'd swear the ghostly woman of the title is on Rollerblades, and a twist ending that M. Night Shyamalan would have rejected as "too corny." But the film does do one thing: It makes you wonder just how creepy the early British toy industry was. The rooms full of rotting, glassy-eyed monkeys and dolls that suddenly spring to life and play music at the worst possible moment would back Chucky of "Child's Play" into a corner and have him crying for his mommy.
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