Daniel Radcliffe finds himself without a wand in a house of horror.
There came a point in "The Woman in Black" when I started to wonder: How often can Daniel Radcliffe walk down the same creepy hallway holding the same flickering candle looking for what went bump in the night?
The answer, I found, was very often. This unrelenting motif is essentially the premise of "The Woman in Black," a skillful haunted-house film that will soon evaporate from your memory like the ghostly specter of its title.
It's too bad. There's legacy on the line here. "The Woman in Black" is the fourth film produced by the resurrected Hammer film studio, a name that carries considerable cachet in horror circles. Hammer reached exalted heights in the 1950s and '60s for its Gothic take on classic texts like Frankenstein and Dracula.
Furthermore, this is our first look at Radcliffe following the global grip that was the "Harry Potter" franchise. He's supposed to be all grown up in the film, portraying a Victorian-era father with a 4-year-old son. But even with scruff on his square jaw and dark circles around his blue eyes, poppa Radcliffe still looks like a boy wizard.
Maybe it's all the better for "The Woman in Black," a movie that demands plenty of youthful shrieks from its star. He plays Arthur Kipps, a lawyer tasked with cleaning up a mound of paperwork left by a rich widow on the coast of England. The reclusive woman spent her final days in a spooky, vine-covered mansion littered with wind-up toys.
Obviously, it's haunted by her dead sister.
More bad news for Arthur: The mansion sits in the middle of a giant marshland, so the road washes away every night at high tide. Not only does he have to piece together clues as to why the sister is haunting the house (and kills kids in the nearby village; forgot to mention that), but he's stuck out there, too.
Sticking to its Hammer roots, the movie begins with a strong sense of dread. It's a template drawn by the best haunted-house films (think: "The Shining"). Soon, the frights come, lurking first and then crashing onto the screen. They are well-timed and mostly free of gore. The film is almost old-fashioned in that respect.
But after a while, "The Woman in Black" amounts to an elaborate jack-in-the-box. Yes, it will make you jump. But will you remember what forced you out of your seat a month from now? Or even next week? Probably not.