Many specters hang over The Woman in Black (rated PG-13 for thematic material and disturbing images), but the most visible is the ghost of Harry Potter. The film's star, Daniel Radcliffe (who portrayed Potter in eight films), attempts to shake the memory of a franchise that dominated half his life. Not an easy task. In the classic tradition of Gothic horror, the film provides some genuine frights without resorting to extreme violence or gore. Though it's refreshing to see a horror movie owing more to Edgar Allen Poe than Saw 3D, the story ultimately leaves the viewer feeling as cold as the foggy marsh where its frights occur.
Set in early 20th-century England, the story follows Arthur (Radcliffe), an attorney whose suffering runs deep. Grief-stricken after the loss of his wife, Arthur is tasked with sorting out the estate of a widow who's recently died. After meeting with resistance from locals in her remote village, Arthur travels out to the late widow's gloomy mansion situated on a vast marsh. Bad leads to worse and in no time at all, children start dying and Arthur sees visions of (you guessed it) a ghostly woman in black. With the help of a local skeptic (Ciarán Hinds), Arthur attempts to solve the mystery of the dying children before his own young son arrives for a visit.
Steeped in shimmering grays, the film effectively creates a world of isolation and fear where every mirror and porcelain doll takes on an evil menace. The supporting cast is strong, and Radcliffe is solid as the mournful Arthur, his pale face and wide eyes well suited to the horror genre. Indeed, the film is a reminder that it can be fun to watch scary movies, but the story relies on predictably unfulfilling turns and in the end, offers nothing new beyond the opportunity to see Radcliffe without his wand.