By STEVE PERSALL
Times Movie Critic
Daniel Radcliffe takes his first steps away from Harry Potter movie stardom and lands face first in The Woman in Black, a ghost story inspiring an idea to solve the unemployment problem.
Use the money you'd spend for a ticket to hire someone to sneak up in dull, quiet moments and shriek really loud. The effect will be the same — more irritating than scary — and you'll be doing something better for the economy than padding Hollywood bank accounts.
The shrieker in The Woman in Black is the black-shrouded ghost of a crazy lady who lost custody of her child, committed suicide and demands revenge from beyond. She pops into a remote English village on occasion and children die. Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a London lawyer assigned to close a deal on Eel Marsh House, her haunted mansion. Nobody wants him poking around and waking her up. Hide the kids, grab the earplugs.
Arthur is already a dignified mess, after his wife died during childbirth, and raising his son Joseph (Misha Handley) alone. Joseph and his nanny plan to join him at Eel Marsh but Arthur quickly deduces that isn't a good idea. But he must finish his business, which consists of wandering through the mansion and bogs in various states of apprehension until the shrieker shows up again.
Despite its haunted house setting, the movie's most visible cobwebs are found in Jane Goldman's screenplay, adapted from Susan Hill's novel. The mystery behind the deaths of these children is revealed with the unconvincing flair of a campfire yarn, and Eel Marsh House is scary only for its bad plumbing. The movie creaks as badly as the mansion's floorboards.
Radcliffe doesn't get many chances to prove if there truly is movie life after Harry Potter, so final judgment is reserved. How much of a stretch this role is can be debated, with the supernatural theme, 1930s period setting and a mansion resembling Hogwarts in decline. Radcliffe looks too young for the role but his performance is controlled, in contrast to Janet McTeer's eye-rolling turn as a demented medium.
The Woman in Black may appeal to less discerning audiences, those who consider sonic stings to be the height of terror, and child endangerment as something more than a cheap shock. Not me, although I'm available for moonlighting as a designated shrieker.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.