“It’s just an old place cut off from the world,” is what Sam Daily tells Arthur Kipps about Eel Marsh House, a conventional Victorian mansion abandoned and falling into decay after its mistress’s tragic loss of a son and her death. It is not an unfamiliar story, particularly for the horror enthusiast. In fact, when The Woman in Black was released, I recall the complete lack of hype surrounding it: a beautifully-shot but typical ghost story, not at all what you might expect from Hammer. I’ve asked myself what it is that I love about this film if it does nothing new or exciting for the ghost story genre, and I think the answer lies in the setting and location of Eel Marsh House itself and the reproduction of something central to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century ghost story. Beyond the seemingly timeless obsession with mothers and children, this film is obsessed with something else: technology and communication. And the dead master both much better than do the living.
The plot subsists on a steady stream of deaths. Lawyer Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliffe), who has lost his wife in childbirth, must travel to Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of Alice Drablow and to recover her papers from Eel Marsh House. When he arrives, the inhabitants of the town do everything in their power to convince him to turn around and go home. Sam Daily, who befriends him on the train, informs him of the local superstitions concerning Eel Marsh house, but, in the end, he takes Arthur to Eel Marsh House and helps him to “settle” the estate in a quite different way than he planned. As it turns out, the house is haunted by the ghost of Jennet Humfrye, Alice’s sister. The film ends with these men following all the rules by which to put a disturbed spirit to rest, only to find that rest is not what she wants.