I don't know about you, but I love a good creepy, gothic movie. There just aren't enough of them. (There aren't enough gothic novels either in my opinion.) Big old moldy vine-laden mansion? Ghosts of children and a crazy woman? Sinister, wind-up toys and dolls? Sign me up.
Unfortunately, I regret to inform you that I have not read this book. Susan Hill is famous for her spooktastic novels, where she is willing to throw anyone and everyone under the bus. I've got her on my list of authors I need to pursue. But my kids and I couldn't wait on my slow rear end to get around to it.
In a nutshell, without too much spoilage, here is what we have. Edwardian England, young widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliff) with a young son (Daniel's Godson IRL) is forced out of his four year grief-laden funk to investigate the last will and testament of Alice Drablow. Drablow survived her husband, her son Nathaniel (who drowned in the marshes at a young age) and her sister Jennet, who hanged herself, only to become a recluse in a big old moldy mansion perched on an island that is inaccessible at high tide.
When Kipps arrives in Drablow's village, the inhabitants are less than welcoming, and all seem shell-shocked. Kipps soon witnesses a gruesome death of one of the local children, and learns many others have had the same fate. Through his investigation of Drablow's old documents, he also begins to learn about the circumstances around which young Nathaniel had died and the menacing presence of her sister Jennet's ghost.
When it comes to the alluring atmosphere of a gothic tale, this film has got it all. I was particularly taken by the abandoned mansion, and the barren winding road that leads to it through a marshy muck, which is all underwater at high tide. The island is overgrown, foggy, and speckled with gravestones.
As I said before, Hill knows no sacred cows, and therein lies the beauty of the plot. No one is safe, and things may just not work out like you might imagine. I love that in a film or a book.
There are also plenty of horrifying visuals. At the beginning of the movie, we see three little girls having a tea party in their attic nursery. In unison, they all turn to the window, stand up, walk to the window in a trance and jump to their deaths. There are images of a child clawing his way out of the muck from his tomb. Of someone hanged. Of someone burning alive. The movie is PG-13, so there is relatively little gore per se, no sexual content, but heavy on these graphic images and intensity. (Personally, I was more disturbed by the deranged wind-up toys than anything. You know, the kind that come to life at night and try to eat your face.)
On the downside, the movie is chock-full of cheap scares. Things jump out at you every 2.3 minutes. And I don't think it was really necessary, given the subject matter. There was plenty there already to give you the chills. And while I find Daniel Radcliff pleasing to the eye, I can't say he impressed me with his acting here. His performance was wooden at best.
While this one won't win any awards, if you enjoy getting the chills and gothic creepiness is your brain candy, I'd recommend seeing this one.