A post-“Harry Potter” Daniel Radcliffe stars as a widowed young father and lawyer (!), struggling with grief. Set in the early 20th century, Radcliffe’s firm sends him to a remote English village to go through the estate papers of a deceased woman. He gets a frosty reception from the locals, and soon after entering the dead woman’s house, things start to get all spooky and ghostly. In particular he is visited by a creepy woman in black (Hey, that should be the title!). Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer play the only welcoming people in town, which might just make you want to turn right around then and there, don’t you think?
Although the new Hammer Studios isn’t technically the same as the studio that was previously home to most things Victorian Era, vampires, and Christopher Lee, this 2012 item from director James Watkins (who co-wrote the disappointing “The Descent Part 2” and “My Little Eye”) and writer Jane Goldman (“Stardust”, “Kick-Ass”, “X Men: First Class”) is at least not worlds away from that studio’s output. It’s definitely more Hammer-esque than the overrated “Let Me In” was (and much better than “The Resident”), and features familiar elements like a Jonathan Harker-esque protagonist (not to mention the entire prologue, really being “Dracula”-esque), an inn full of unfriendly faces, foreboding scenery, etc. There are no vampires nor is Christopher Lee around, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable and classic yarn, and fantastic to look at, too. The scenery captured by cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones is gorgeously foreboding, cold, and dreary-looking in the best way possible. It almost looks like a Coldplay video, only not accompanied by craptacular music.
Daniel Radcliffe, although looking too young to have a four year-old kid if you ask me, nonetheless sells being unsettled without his eyes popping out of his head. It’s a solid turn by the best of the three leads in the “Harry Potter” series. He definitely gets the tortured, weary aspect to his character down pat and might well have a future in Victorian Era films, if they still make enough of them. Meanwhile, are there any two actors more suspicious and ominous-looking than Janet McTeer and Ciaran Hinds? The casting is good all-round, even if a Christopher Lee or David Warner wouldn’t have gone astray. Then again, Lee was in “The Resident”, and no one needs to be reminded of that terrible film.
Based on a Susan Hill novel that was turned into one of the longest-running plays in London’s history, this one’s more atmospheric than scary. But if you’re a Hammer fan like I am, you’ll actually appreciate that, even if this Hammer Studios is a bastardisation of the old one. Hell, there’s even a bit of Mario Bava (“Black Sunday”, “Kill, Baby...Kill”, “The Whip and the Body”) in it, if you ask me, and indeed Bava dealt with ghosts far more often than Hammer, admittedly.
It could’ve used a bit more fog, and I’m not sure if the ‘torture porn’ crowd will appreciate it, but this was an old-fashioned horror flick they don’t seem to make often enough anymore. At times it genuinely attempts to be scary and doesn’t quite succeed. This is probably because no ghostly horror cliché is left unused here.
Hardly an unnerving experience, but it’s still a solid and respectable try and worth a look if you’re into this kind of thing, like I am.