A largely successful exercise in generating and sustaining suspense, The Woman In Black provides the hallmark gothic chills associated with its revitalised production company Hammer Films. An impressive leading man performance from a post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe also goes a great length towards overcoming a script that is notably lacking in incident.
Jane Goldman's adaptation of Susan Hill's Victorian-set 1982 novel sees Radcliffe tackling the role of London-based solicitor Arthur Kipps as he ventures to a remote village. His mission is to resolve the affairs of a recently deceased owner of a mansion, yet his innocent presence upsets most of the perturbed locals. Before long a mysterious woman dressed in black emerges from the shadows to place the village's children in grave danger.
Dark secrets emerge along the way, but the main focus of the movie is following Arthur's spine-tingling sensual experiences as he immerses himself in increasingly spectre-acular surroundings. For this strategy to work, a huge burden is placed on Radcliffe as seemingly 70% of the film features close-up reaction shots of his disconcerted visage.
Watkins, who showed promise with 'chavs on the rampage' Brit horror Eden Lake, times the scares perfectly and elicits several unexpected jumps just when you feel it's safe to breathe. In combination with the earthy, foggy texture procured by cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones and an ethereal score by composer Marco Beltrami, Watkins also depicts a mesmerising ghostly terrain that occasionally evokes Hammer's masterful 1959 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Before an impactful denouement, there is a notable sag in the film's pace as the lack of sufficient story development starts to become noticeable and the foreboding atmospherics start to become over-familiar and repetitive. A backstory involving flashbacks of Arthur's past also fails to engender the desired emotional pay-off.
While The Woman in Black will not be a satisfactory journey for many of those who prefer plot-driven movies, there is a great deal to invigorate and thrill viewers who can accept that style is substance. Allow yourself to be consumed by the eerie tone and convincing performances and there is every chance you will be consistently gripped for this impressive foray into old-school horror.