Less is certainly more in The Woman In Black, a chilling film version of the celebrated novel by Susan Hill, which has been re-imagined as a television movie, a radio series and a hit stage play in the 30 years since its publication.
Working from a screenplay by Jane Goldman, director James Watkins delivers a cinematic ghost train that plunges us into the eerie silence of a haunted house as the film’s mutton-chopped hero nervously wanders corridors with a flickering lamp to light the way.
Expectations of unspeakable horrors around each darkened corner play havoc with our frayed nerves and Watkins orchestrates some nice scares, accompanied by deafening bursts of composer Marco Beltrami’s discordant score.
The decision to forego dialogue to concentrate on old-fashioned horror traditions is refreshing and renders leading man Daniel Radcliffe mute for extended periods, which is no bad thing.
In his first major role since hanging up his wand as Harry Potter, the 22-year-old actor is as wooden as the creaky floorboards in the godforsaken mansion and as soulless as the titular spectre.
His character’s emotional torment fails to translate from the script to his inexpressive face and it’s hard to accept Radcliffe as the doting father of a young son.
London solicitor Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is haunted by the death of his wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey) during child birth, and he seeks refuge in his love for their three-year-old boy, Joseph (Misha Handley).
His work suffers as a consequence and Arthur’s boss Mr Bentley (Roger Allam) makes clear the precariousness of his situation, growling: “We can’t carry passengers. We’re not a charity.”
To prove himself, Arthur is despatched to the remote village of Crythin Gifford where he must attend to the papers of Alice Drablow, the recently deceased owner of Eel Marsh House.
The locals including innkeeper Fisher (Shaun Dooley) and his wife (Mary Stockley), try to ward off Arthur, advising him to “go home to your son - cherish him, love him”.
However, Arthur persists with the help of local landowner Mr Daily (Ciaran Hinds) and glimpses a mysterious woman (Liz White) dressed all in black, who is blamed for the deaths of children in the village.
The Woman In Black opens with a chilling scene of three girls committing suicide by jumping from the window of their attic playroom, and continues to unnerve until Radcliffe is compelled to speak.
Director Watkins doesn’t reveal too much of his malevolent spirit and a centrepiece sequence in a bog of choking mud leaves us gasping with air along with the characters.
Radcliffe’s failings are highlighted by lively performances from Hinds and Janet McTeer, the latter playing Daily’s deranged wife.
Disappointingly, the denouement errs heavily towards sentiment when much of the rest of the film has been permeated by dread.
By Damon Smith
Released: February 10 (UK & Ireland), 94 mins
:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10