Despite being published in 1983, The Woman In Black by Susan Hill has a timeless quality to it. The gothic horror novella has since spawned television and radio productions, one of the longest running West End plays and in 2012, a feature length adaptation.Not a completely faithful translation from page to screen, it takes elements from the book and presents us with a more linear version of the original story.
The central character remains Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who is sent to the remote village of Cryphin Gifford to deal with the paperwork left behind by the recently deceased Mrs Drablow. A village shrouded in mystery and superstition, his arrival is met with disfavour by the residents who try their best to dissuade him from entering Drablow’s former residence, Eel Marsh House.
Determined to the get the job done however, Kipps makes his way to the secluded house and when there, sees the spectral form of a woman dressed in black. When it appears that this vision is in someway responsible for the deaths of children in the village, Kipps must find a way to put this vengeful ghost to peace.
A quintessential British ghost story, The Woman In Black is gothic horror at its very best. Chilling to the core, it’s a tense watch from beginning to end and has a remarkably high hit rate in terms of scares. The films centrepiece, which finds Kipps spending his first night at Eel Marsh House is particularly terrifying, with one creepy image and loud bang after the other relentlessly attacking your nerves.
Like the previous ghost stories I have looked back at over the past few weeks, what The Woman In Black does really well is present a romanticised portrayal of death as well. By making our protagonist a widowed single father, you get the impression throughout the film that his determination to visit Eel Marsh House has more to do with his search for the afterlife than his work. This comes to a head in the films ambiguous finale which some may find sad or happy, depending on your outlook on death.
The Edwardian era in which the story is set, plays a pivotal role too. A time where the car, the telephone and the Séance were all new and equally mysterious concepts to people. It gives background to Kipps’ intrigue and search for answers to the afterlife. This brings a great depth to the classic ghost story and it’s this aspect of the film that interests me more than anything.
A still very entertaining film however, The Woman In Black is a dark and moody horror with plenty of actual scares. It’s spine tinglingly chilling and will have you wanting to sleep with the lights on afterwards.
Trivia Tidbit: After receiving a huge amount of complaints in regards to the films 12a rating, the BBFC brought on changes to rating system in regards to horror films.
Next Week: Paranormal Activity (2007)
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