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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

YOU may ex­pect Daniel Rad­cliffe to strug­gle con­vinc­ing us he’s good for play­ing any­one be­sides Harry Pot­ter, but the young fella pretty much gets it right as lawyer Arthur Kipps in James Watkins’s adaptation of the suc­cess­ful Su­san Hill novel The Woman in Black.

Sent to the re­mote vil­lage of Cry­thin Gif­ford to set­tle the af­fairs of one Mrs Drablow, lat­terly the owner of Eel Marsh House, Kipps al­ready knows his task will be dif­fi­cult be­cause of the tor­ren­tial down­pour on the train ride out from Lon­don. Oh, and dur­ing the trip he dreams of his wife’s death while giv­ing birth to their only son. Also, he has a sort of sal­low, mourn­ful face on him the whole time, so we know he must be a trou­bled soul.

On ar­rival in the vil­lage Kipps is al­most turned away from the inn, pre­vail­ing on his hosts only via some pas­sive-ag­gres­sive arm-twist­ing to se­cure an or­di­nar­ily dis­used at­tic room. Then the lo­cal so­lic­i­tor who has been han­dling the de­ceased es­tate — wholly un­sat­is­fac­to­rily, ac­cord­ing to Kipps’s Lon­don law firm — does all he can to send poor Arthur pack­ing straight back to the city. That does it — he knows he’ll have to get to the bot­tom of this co­nun­drum.

En­velop­ing mists, creak­ing doors, mys­tery whis­tles, crows flap­ping about ut­ter­ing end­lessly spooky sounds — there’s a lot that has to with birds of doom in this thing — and the early death of an in­no­cent child tell you there’ll be plenty of hor­ror. It’s all a lit­tle bit camp, but who says ev­ery­thing has to be se­ri­ous re­al­ism? And this is Harry Pot­ter we’re talk­ing about. (Oh, and blow me if there isn’t a wildly gy­rat­ing rock­ing chair with no one in it, fairly early on.)

Arthur Co­nan Doyle gets an early namecheck and that was enough to pique my in­ter­est. The whole story hinges on the late 19th and early 20th-cen­tury ob­ses­sion with spir­i­tu­al­ism, seances and the oc­cult that was at least in part a prod­uct of that age’s tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances. When Kipps asks the lo­cal so­lic­i­tor whether he has a phone, the an­swer that no one in the vil­lage has one is a re­minder that su­per­sti­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion come from the same dark place.

Of course, you can’t have dis­turbed spir­its and a crum­bling old stately home at the end of a nar­row tidal cause­way with­out a ghost, and so it proves. Kipps, al­ready some­thing of a ner­vous wreck over his fail­ure to make much of him­self at work, mount­ing debts and the long ab­sences his job re­quires from young son Joseph, reaches Eel Marsh House to go through the widow’s pa­pers, only to be con­fronted by a se­cret much darker than the sim­ple malev­o­lent shade we ini­tially have been set up to be on guard for.

It’s all shot very dimly, lit by can­dles and with the usual as­sort­ment of evilly grin­ning toy dolls, pet dogs that know more than they’re let­ting on and sud­den pools of blood in un­ex­pected places. I’d be sur­prised if Kipps — or Rad­cliffe, for that mat­ter — slept an­other wink once this job was done. The moral? Just make sure you al­ways pay back your debts to the dead.

This week

(MA15+) Para­mount (83min, $37.95)

(M) 20th Cen­tury Fox (124min, $39.95)

(M) Sony (95min, $14.95)

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