Daniel Radcliffe makes it abundantly clear that Arthur Kipps, the Victorian-era lawyer he plays in the thriller “The Woman in Black,” is nothing like Harry Potter: He doesn’t wear glasses, he has long sideburns, and most important, he’s not nearly as smart or task-oriented as the Boy Who Lived.
Kipps, a widower caring for his 4-year-old son, is dispatched by his firm to sort out the affairs of a dead woman in a remote lakeside mansion near the moors. The locals look at Kipps with distrust, with the exception of the area’s richest resident, Samuel Daley (Ciaran Hinds), who invites Kipps to stay in his house — which is also inhabited by Daley’s traumatized wife (Janet McTeer).
Soon Kipps discovers there’s a ghostly presence in the lakeside mansion and uncovers a scandal involving the dead woman’s sister and a child who died years earlier. He also learns why the townsfolk are so freaked out: Nearly every child in the village has died in creepy ways, and the ghost is believed to be responsible.
Director James Watkins (“Eden Lake”) finds that all the old haunted-house tricks — creaky doors, bumps in the night, etc. — still work effectively when employed with this level of atmospheric flair. The weakness is in the script, by hot-writer-of-the-moment Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass,” “The Debt,” “X-Men: First Class”) adapting Susan Hill’s novel, which relies on the characters to do the wrong things at the wrong times.
Radcliffe is still a bit boyish to play the tormented Kipps, but he brings enough soul to the part to assure you he has a long post-Potter career ahead of him — even if, occasionally, he flashes a look that tells you he knows he could clear up the house’s ghost problems with one Patronus charm.
‘The Woman in Black’
Opens today at theaters everywhere; rated PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images; 95 minutes.