This film is many things. It’s atmospheric, tense, well made, it looks very good indeed, and it has a number of set-pieces that are on a par with the ones in Paranormal Activity. The director James Watkins has made this, when he wants it to be, genuinely scary, which is a rarity these days. When the film is inside the haunted house, it is very impressive, up there with such films as The Others.
Yet in the scenes where it isn’t set in the house, it lags enormously. Daniel Radcliffe is an unconvincing presence and suitably unfit for the role. The dialogue is ropy at best, atrocious at worst. The characterisation is straight out of the horror-movie clichÃ© textbook, and despite it’s trim running time, it has one ‘final scene’ too many. It’s also far too formulaic.
It is a film of two halves, and your enjoyment of it will rest solely on which half you focus on. It’s a small relief that a good half of the film takes place inside the haunted house, where the eponymous woman reigns supreme, because these are the most memorable bits, the bits that will make you jump, and make your heart beat that bit faster, in the way that only really scary horror films do. It pulls out all the stops and throws every creepy touch it has at you to elicit a scare, and it does this, often.
The plot is relatively simple; Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a depressed widower who is trying to make ends meet for him and his young son. He is a lawyer, and he takes a job on a remote island to settle the deeds and will of an empty house. But all is not as it seems, and after a string of suicides and sightings of the woman, Kipps tries to settle everything and restore the island to peace.
But the truth of the matter is, here, the plot is irrelevant. There is some attempt at making us care, but at the end of the day it’s what’s inside the house that counts, and this is where the film comes into its own. Noise, colour, mood, music are all manipulated to their full effect to make this as harrowing an experience as possible, when it wants to be. As I said, there are moments in this film that are on a par with the Paranormal Activity series, in terms of sustained threat. You genuinely feel scared.
Then there’s the issue of Daniel Radcliffe. This is his first chance to prove to cinema-goers that he can act outside of the boy who lived, and quite frankly, he doesn’t set the world on fire. His delivery of lines is off at most points, and he’s too unconvincing as a dad or anything else to be taken seriously. I have heard he is excellent in his stage work, but I have yet to see any of it: on this evidence alone, I am sceptical as to what he is capable of as an actor. He doesn’t show much here.
The supporting cast does sterling work (especially Ciaran Hinds) but it’s to little effect. Plot holes abide and dialogue jars. Maybe, if these aspects were less prevalent, and there were one or two more scenes in the house, I could ignore the flaws. As it stands, I was frustrated how a film could be so good yet so bad at the same time. I do recommend you see it, if only because for half an hour in the second act you will be absolutely terrified. It’s a mixed bag of a film, though, and this is the true ghost that haunts you while you’re watching it.