Daniel Radcliffe no doubt took the lead role in the horror film “The Woman in Black” in part to distance himself from Harry Potter. Ironically, it’s because we already like him from “Potter” that we’re willing to stalk the candlelit halls of a spider web-covered haunted house with him.
“The Artist” might be the only true silent film in recent memory, but “The Woman in Black” is decidedly sparse on dialog too. As Arthur, a financially strapped young lawyer in early 20th-century Scotland, an understated Radcliffe spends a lot of the movie cautiously investigating the house’s cache of mysterious documents and letters filed in trunks and under beds, the rooms filled with wind-up toys that start on their own (natch) and the overgrown graveyard outside. There’s no “Potter” hangover here, despite the presence of a steam-engine train and a closet under the stairs; Radcliffe is grizzled and cautious, looking a bit too young to be a dad, but world-weary enough that we can set heroic Harry aside for the moment.
Of course, it’s not strictly a silent film; we get the standard music-note bursts or brief screams to accompany the sudden flash of something scary. In that sense — and in the sense that the film is thinly plotted with not much mystery to chew on — “The Woman in Black” is standard horror fare.
Still, it gains a lot of points for the visuals. There’s a great chapter in a recent Preston/Child novel where D’Agosta gets lost in the fog along a barely marked trail through the marshes of Scotland. Now, in this movie, I get more of a sense of how scary and bizarre such a setting is: The haunted house is accessible by a road that gets flooded daily when the water level rises. Arthur’s friend Sam (Ciaran Hinds, who plays Aberforth Dumbledore in the last “Harry Potter” film) drops him off (he’s the first person in town to own a car), and for much of the film, Arthur is well and truly trapped on what amounts to an island.
For the visuals, the solid performance by Radcliffe, and yes, for the scares, horror fans will want to check out “The Woman in Black.”