CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Well, it's about time. The relaunched Hammer has finally pulled it together and done what they're supposed to do - classy Gothic horror movies. After the tiresome MySpace serial Beyond The Rave, the pointless slasher The Resident, the unwarranted but handsome remake Let Me In (which I liked, but it's a Hammer Film in exactly the way the Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach is a Warner Brothers Film; the branding is meaningless) and the unsuccessful Wake Wood (which doesn't even have the Hammer name anywhere on the film), they've gone back to well-known literary roots, a period setting, splendid production design and actual scares.
Aspiring lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) has been dispatched to the remote coastal village of Crythin Gifford to sort out the paperwork for a recently deceased client's estate: specifically the gloomy and crumbling mansion Eel Marsh House built so far across the sands that it is cut off at high tide. Why are the locals so unfriendly and unwelcoming? Why does the village solicitor refuse point blank to assist? Why will no-one venture out to the house? The local lore of The Woman In Black, that's why: a vengeful spectre whose every appearance is said to presage a death in the village...and Kipps' presence is disturbing her.
In Hammer terms, Eel Marsh House is basically Castle Dracula and Crythin Gifford is full of the scared peasants who won't take Van Helsing up the mountain at night (you do almost expect Michael Ripper to turn up as the innkeeper). The House itself, a dark, fog-shrouded monstrosity that no sane person would ever set foot in, is a magnificent piece of set design that quite honestly could not be more naturally terrifying - gravestones in the grounds, creaking doors, an array of clockwork toys that are disturbing enough before they switch on by themselves, a rocking chair that rocks while empty. And that's before the Woman In Black herself: genuinely scary whether seen blurred in the background or barrelling straight towards the camera.
There are some comfortably familiar faces including Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer and Roger Allam, to add some colour around a fairly bland central character (which is often the way - the leads tend to be less interesting than the supports). In this regard Daniel Radcliffe is probably the weak link as he has yet to break clean away from being Harry Potter. Certainly he's good enough that you don't ever expect him to whip out a wand, but he needs to do several other significantly different roles to get away from that most famous millstone role (and probably the same thing will hold for the other Potterites, as well as Twilighters Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner). Most likely he will, but it'll take time.
It's scary, it's creepy, it's doom-laden and morbid, and it's precisely the kind of film Hammer should be making: period British Gothic horror. And I jumped at all the right moments and covered my eyes throughout to the extent that I query the BBFC's 12A rating. Six seconds were cut and some shots were visually or aurally toned down, which means the finished film is a very strong 12A rather than a borderline 15, but the released version still pretty intense and as a grown adult I honestly felt it was still too strong, and 15 is still the appropriate certificate. 12A allows idiot parents to bring seven-year-olds in because it's got Harry Potter in it and it really isn't suitable for them. But for horror fans, it's a creepy, unsettling treat, firmly in the tradition of British ghost stories (coming a few months after The Awakening, is it too much to hope for a full-blown renaissance of the genre?) and thrilling to see in an era of remakes, sequels and reboots. Go and see it.