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The Woman in Black

Scary Potter – ★★★½

You have to feel a bit sorry for Daniel Radcliffe.

No matter what he does it’s going to take him a long time to escape the weight of carrying the most-successful movie franchise in history. For example of “what not to do next”, you only need to consider Luke Skywalker’s Mark Hamill and Frodo Baggins’ Elijah Wood. Both took on huge roles in their twenties which they have struggled to escape from since.

Radcliffe’s situation is a little different as he went through adolescence on screen as everybody’s favourite boy wizard Harry Potter. He started his journey at the age of ten and the series made him a very rich man with an estimated personal fortune of £40million leaving him in the enviable position of having the option for early retirement at the wizened age of 22.

He famously appeared in the nip in a 2007 West End revival run of Equus, and won plaudits last year for taking on the lead in a Broadway production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Add to that countless infectious appearances on the U.S. late night talk show circuit and a recent guest-host spot on Saturday Night Live and there’s been plenty of hints there’s more to him than just being “the boy that lived”.

| o | - Potter post-puberty.

But aside from the forgettable 2007 drama December Boys, non-Potter roles on the big screen have been off the table until now. The Woman in Black is an adaptation of a Susan Hill horror novel from the early 80s. The book was previously adapted into a feature-length TV drama by Granada Television in 1989 but was optioned by the revived version of Hammer Horror Productions. The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century and tells the story of Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer forced to take a job in a creepy village on England’s North-East coast. Here he has to prepare the paperwork to sell an old house. Guess what? It’s haunted and its former inhabitant seem to be the cause of a wave of child suicides in the area. Dearie me.

As with most gothic horror films, and particularly those of Hammer Horror’s original incarnation, the plot is paper-thin but everyone involved seems to enjoy giving it their all. Ciarán Hinds plays Daily, Potter Kipps’s ally and long-suffering husband of a wonderfully crazy woman played by Janet McTeer who gives us the craziest eyes since Werner Herzog ordered his PA to give Nic Cage more cocaine on Bad Lieutenant.

The atmosphere and the frights engineered by director James Watkins work brilliantly and are yet more evidence that there’s plenty of life left in traditional horror in this era where the top-grossing horrors always seems to be a Paranormal Activity or Saw movie. Sure there’s plenty of murky shadows and dodgy corpses dotted around the place but what actually sticks in your head the most was probably the sinister 100-year-old wind-up toys that were littered around the house. The film is rife with “whythehellareyougoingbackintothehouse!” moments, and it’s a credit to Watkins that as an audience we’re happy to go along for the ride despite the implausibility.

And a final word for wee Daniel (no not that one). His performance is not ground-breaking by any means, but there’s an openness and innocence in everything he does and something tells me he’ll be sticking around for a while yet. £40million in the bank or not.

UK, Canada, Sweden  /   James Watkins  /   Jane Goldman  /  Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds, Shaun Dooley, Roger Allam  /  95mins  /  Horror  /  Release: 3 February 2012 (US/Canada), 10 February 2012 (UK/Irl)

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.