[Screen It]

(2012) (Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds) (PG-13)

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Horror: A young, early 20th century lawyer must contend with supernatural occurrences in the remote, seaside mansion where he's working for a few days.
Arthur Kipps (DANIEL RADCLIFFE) is a young lawyer living in early 20th century London who's been raising his 4-year-old son, Joseph (MISHA HANDLEY), by himself due to Arthur's wife dying during childbirth. Arthur's fixation on her and feelings that she's still around have apparently affected his work. Accordingly, his boss is giving him once last chance to prove his worth.

He must travel to the small village of Crythin Gifford where most everyone seems overly protective of their children and nearly all are inhospitable to the outsider. That is, except for the richest man around, Sam Daily (CIARAN HINDS), and his wife, Elizabeth (JANET McTEER), who lost their only son years ago, a tragedy that seems all too common there.

Arthur's job is to find the final will and go through the mounds of papers belonging to the late Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow who lived in the remote Eel Marsh House, a mansion along the cost where access to it is cut off twice daily by the incoming high tide. The locals aren't happy about Arthur going there, and he soon learns why. It seems the place is haunted by the ghost of Alice's sister, Jennet (LIZ WHITE), who lost custody of her young son and then blamed the boy's accidental death on Alice.

Now known as the lady in black, Jennet's appearance is viewed by all as a sign of the pending death of another child in the village. Sam doesn't believe in any of that, but as Arthur begins to experience one supernatural event after another at the mansion, he soon becomes a believer and tries to figure out how to remedy the haunting.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
If one were to say "It's Hammer time, most people of a certain age might think that's a reference to Bob Villa getting ready to work on another project. Others might think of Oakland born rapper MC Hammer and his biggest hit, "Don't Touch This" that included the signature line. But long before Villa was hammering and Hammer was rapping, Hammer time meant watching the latest horror flick from the British movie house, Hammer Film Productions.

While they had been around for decades, they found their best niche market in horror, starting in the 1950s up through the '70s with their versions of popular movie monster characters like Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and more. But then times and audience expectations and tastes changed as more graphic horror flicks started coming out of the U.S., eventually ending the studio's reign of terror, if you will.

But like any good cinematic monster, the studio has recently clawed its way back from the grave of obscurity. First, there was the remake of the Swedish film "Let the Right One In" (retitled "Let Me In") that has now been followed by the movie version of "The Woman in Black." First released in novel form in 1983, the Susan Hill penned tale became (and still is) a big theatrical hit on the stage, while a TV movie of the same was done in 1989.

Now, nearly a quarter century later, it hits the big screen in a film that keeps the original title and attempts to recreate the terror and scares associated with horror long ago before graphic violence and gore bloodied up the genre. The result of the work by director James Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman is surprisingly effective even if it relies too much on far too many "jump scenes."

And it might just prove far scarier if viewed at home alone rather than in an advance screening audience like ours where the shrieking of certain audience members ended up turning too comical for the intended experience. What it will likely be most noticed for, though (at least initially), is that it stars a young actor best known for headlining a certain, wildly popular fantasy series who would obviously like to avoid forever being typecast in that role.

That, of course, would be Daniel Radcliffe who grew up before our eyes on the screen playing the title character in the "Harry Potter" flicks. While still instantly recognizable, one won't likely think of the boy wizard upon catching sight of him in this period piece where he physically fits quite well into the period setting and its related visuals and gothic horror aura.

It's too bad then that the performer isn't given something meatier with which to work. Yes, there's the back-story of his young lawyer character losing his wife during the birth of their now 4-year-old son, and that he imagines seeing her from time to time. But that's hardly original, which also holds true for the tale of spirits haunting an old mansion and wanting closure and/or revenge for being wronged (or killed) in the past.

It certainly doesn't help that great stretches of the flick simply involve Radcliffe's character hearing something and then slowly going to investigate. Thankfully, the period setting gets around the old "why doesn't he turn on the lights" question that haunts the credibility of many a horror film. Unfortunately, all of those slow walks are followed by obvious jump scenes where sudden music (on the soundtrack) punctuates the intended scare.

Thus, rather than being a film that gets under your skin and burrows into your psyche, much of the offering ends up feeling like a haunted house attraction where the fun comes from the sudden jolts. That said, and thanks to the work of the production designer, cinematographer, location scout (if the establishing shots of the island locale are real and not created in post-production), and wrangler (or creator) of some truly creepy old toys, the mood and aura are established quite well for what the story needs to elicit its scares.

It's hard to say how the film will fare at the box office. It isn't gory enough for younger viewers weaned on such graphic visuals, while the period setting and lack of technology might put off those who favor the "Paranormal Activity" type flicks. And for those who like their supernatural scares delivered in a premium fashion (such as "The Shining"), the film's over-reliance on things that will make you jump lessens its overall creepy factor.

That said, there's enough spooky material present to earn the film a recommendation for those looking for an old-fashioned horror film, hopefully resulting in "Hammer Time!" coming back to the venerable British studio. "The Lady in Black" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed January 31, 2012 / Posted February 3, 2012

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