He could have followed up the Harry Potter movies with anything, and his Solar System/fans would have followed.
The Woman in Black is it. I think this is a great move by the filmmakers. But also for Radcliffe.
Director: James Watkins
Not Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Guy with a Car: Ciaran Hinds
Loves to draw with sharp objects: Janet McTeer
Very ethereal, usually dressed in black: Liz White
Looks a lot like Ciaran Hinds: Tim McMullan
Radcliffe's wife (also very ethereal): Sophie Stuckey
Here are the mutual benefits.
Radcliffe brings in the money.
The Woman in Black allows him to not really do anything.
That sounds bad. But it's the truth. The movie is, as Ebert said, "not a character study. [The] haunted house is the star." The most intense portion of the movie is a 15-30 min (I didn't have a stop watch) segment where Radcliffe's staying overnight in the Eel Marsh mansion. There are scary moments mixed with clues to what's going on. It's like an episode of Scooby-Doo (yes, there's even a dog). And there's ZERO dialogue during this segment. You just have to watch the character.
And Daniel Radcliffe has built up such good-will from the Harry Potter movies, he has millions (and millions)
Yes, teens love seeing PG-13 scary movies. But I'm sure most of them were there for Post-Potter Radcliffe.
I say Watkins made a solid film. I liked the scale of the shots. I liked his use of First-Person camera. Almost every major critic is praising his methods of setting up chills, anticipation, and scares (allowing for the fact that some moments are repeated, if not cliches of the genre). The movie is, I think it's safe to argue, competent. It executes well, regardless of how thin its characters and mythology are (and, for a genre piece like this, I think thin is allowable).
Which is fine and dandy. But is that a selling-point for mass droves of teenagers? "Come see this competent movie! It executes well!" I don't think so. Some would go (it's something to do; they love scary movies that much). But some isn't $20 million.
How do you bring those teens into the theater? How do you keep them engaged when there's a 15-30 min segment that has NO DIALOGUE? How do you make it so those that see it won't tell their friends who want to see it that it's boring? Especially when it's not a murder movie where someone is being killed every 10 minutes?
You get Daniel Radcliffe.
Name me an actor who would have been better for this role? Who would have drawn more people? Johnny Depp? Too old. Ryan Gosling? Maybe if you want to nab 20-something females and the fanatic Drive fans.
Just like there's interest in Michael Jordan playing baseball or LeBron James's first year with the Heat, Radcliffe's first post-Potter film is of public interest. Which moved The Woman in Black from a generic "hit-or-miss January release" to an event.
The Harry Potter movie franchise was a first-of-its-kind endeavor. The eight films have grossed $7,700,000,000 world-wide. $2,390,000,000 in America. A lot of people know who Daniel Radcliffe is.
So casting him gets people INTO the theater on opening weekend (the same way Jordan brought the White Sox international attention; LeBron made Miami the must-see team) and teens will sit through 15-30 min of nobody talking because they want to watch Daniel Radcliffe.
If a stranger invites you to have lunch, the odds of you declining are really damn high. If an acquaintance invites you to lunch, you're much more likely to say yes. If a friend invites you to lunch, unless you have some schedule conflict, the odds of you saying yes are great. So, the makers of The Woman in Black got our "friend" Harry Potter to play the role. Then they asked us to come along. A competent film thus gets more recognition than it probably deserves--but has earned for smart casting.
Cast an unknown actor, or someone like Michael Angarano (nothing against Mike), and maybe the performance is similar or better than Radcliffe's (Ebert said he would want someone older and with more gravity than Rad could provide). Maybe, with a different actor, the film gets better reviews, but it sacrifices lots of money, lots of word-of-mouth marketing, and a place in history.
Look at it this way: if you're playing Monopoly, would you rather start the game owning Boardwalk and Park Place, each with a hotel, or would you rather start with Connecticut, Baltic, and one of the yellow ones?
But why is this good for Radcliffe?
Patterning. And by that I mean expectations.
Imagine two situations.
Situation one: It's your senior year of high school. You're popular. You think Kid A is lame. Kid A doesn't talk much, wears ugly t-shirts, and you've never, in the 10 years you've been in school together, talked. Then you're finally 18 and you and your friends go to this bar that's 18 & over. There's a live band playing. And, holy shit, look who it is: Kid A is the lead singer. And he fucking rocks. You have a newfound respect for Kid A. You realize you know nothing about him and he's probably cooler than you ever gave him credit for.
Situation two: It's your senior year of high school. You're not popular. You're in love with Hot Girl D. You have been for 6 years. But you two don't talk. You sometimes overhear her in math class (because you have math class together), and she makes the BEST jokes. You always laugh, but to yourself, because you don't want her to know you're listening and think you're weird. Then, after a Christmas Break during which you refreshed her Facebook page incessantly out a of a mixture of longing and pathetic-ness, something amazing happens. She's going to fail math! If she fails, she won't graduate. She needs a tutor. You have the highest grade in the class. The teacher's asked you to tutor Hot Girl D! Now's your chance to woo her! You're supposed to meet her after school. The day takes forever. Finally, the final bell. You sprint to your locker, grab your math book, hurry to the room and wait. She never shows up. The next day in math, you see the teacher and the girl talking. The teacher then calls your name. "You are going to meet with Hot Girl D after school today, and she'll be there this time, won't you D?" D says "Yes." You say "Grool" not because you're referencing Mean Girls but because you're nervous as hell. Hot Girl D giggles! She says "I love that movie." You have no fucking clue what she's talking about. "Me too." You both smile. You ask the teacher if you can use the hall pass and you leave before your heart explodes. After school, you sprint to your locker, grab your math book, hurry to the room. Hot Girl D appears. There's some chit-chat. Then you begin to teach her math. Except she's not learning it. She keeps talking about other things. She keeps checking her cell phone. She goes to the bathroom twice. She keeps starting to solve the problem then growls, sighs, says math is so stupid. You LOVE math. You received a math scholarship to MIT (then why are you and she in the same class? Don't worry about it, it's a fucking metaphor). After an hour and a half of dealing with her random vocal eruptions, her inattention, her mocking something you so passionately enjoy, you leave the room knowing that Hot Girl D is not the girl for you.
Both situations demonstrate how we perceive someone one way and how that perception is turned around. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes it's not. When you don't think highly of someone, they can't really let you down. There's a lot of potential to surprise you (in a good way). When you DO think highly of someone, the potential for disappointment is terrific.
People perceive Daniel Radcliffe as his Harry Potter persona, because that's HOW we know him. For a decade we've watched him in that role. And millions of people think highly of him. Which means the potential for let-down is/was TREMENDOUS.
The Woman in Black is Radcliffe playing it safe. It's a similar setting to HP. He can use his accent. There's no wizardry, but there are supernatural elements. Visually, this movie isn't a huge deviation. And while he has lines a lot of the movie is him exploring and acting scared (he had more to say, do, and react to as Harry Potter). The major difference between him as Harry Potter and him as Arthur Kipps is that Radcliffe is playing an adult. A father, even. A widower! He's no longer sneaking around trying to solve the problems the adults won't or can't.
Albeit he is solving a problem that the town's adults won't. But he's doing it as an adult. Not as a student. Not as a teenager who has had this tremendous responsibility forced upon him and must own his destiny.
This movie is perfect for Radcliffe because it allows him take a step away from Harry Potter. To ease from the character. To transition. Rather than just cut ties. Could you imagine if instead of this he had done something like...Superbad or Van Wilder or Horrible Bosses or Boogie Nights where he's totally against character? Maybe some people would have enjoyed the turn, but you see him as Harry Potter then you see him as talking about dicks or vagina, or jacking off a dog in order to fill doughnuts with semen, or accidently ingesting cocaine and spazzing out, or playing a prostitute, or doing any of the other things in these movies that earn them their R-rating. The perception of him as Harry is wiped-out. He loses a majority of the good will he spent a decade building up. People begin to understand that he wasn't really Harry Potter, is just another actor, that they never really knew him. Suddenly, he has to start from scratch.
Transition all at once, and who knows what will happen. Evolve slow and steady, and he will have a better chance at retaining fans, of being a box-office sensation for years to come.
Leo didn't go from Titanic to The Departed.
("WHAT ABOUT THAT PLAY HE WAS IN WHERE HE WAS NAKED?!?!?!? ISN'T THAT AGAINST CHARACTER?!?!" If it were a movie, yes. But it was in London and then on Broadway. The ratio of people who saw Radcliffe perform Equus to the number who saw the Harry Potter movies is, I imagine, ridiculously lopsided. The fact is a majority of the world population does not go to London or Broadway theater performances. "WHAT ABOUT December Boys?!?!!? That came out while Radcliffe was still playing Harry Potter!!!" It grossed $1,100,000. $600,000 of it in Australia. It barely counts as having existed.
Did I like it:
Enough. I enjoyed most of the movie, but disliked the end. It left me with a lot of questions.
Like: how in the fucking world is the woman in black so powerful? Is she more powerful or less powerful than, say, the Grim Reaper? Are all ghosts that powerful? Is the the Grim Reaper? There's really no mythology for the film's version of the afterlife. Or of ghosts. Is there a heaven and a hell? Does everyone just exist in the limbo we see at the end? How fucking far can the woman in black go? She travels to the train station. Could she go to Germany? Canada? Is she the one responsible for baby seals dying? I can buy all the supernatural stuff that happens in the house, but once you go beyond the house, I want some explanations. Like, people can see her. Why can't they see other ghosts? WHY IS SHE SO FUCKING SPECIAL???????
So. I liked it as a genre movie. I was creeped-out quite often. As a STORY I would rip this thing to shreds. Which is why, I imagine, reviews are so mixed.
I do think it's really funny to view the entire movie as a metaphor for Daniel Radcliffe moving on from Harry Potter. Especially the last scene. The woman in black kills him and his child. With a train. Trains were a huge part of the Harry Potter films. It was, most often, how Potter and friends went from the real world to the wizard world. So here's another train. But instead of getting on it, BOOM. Dead. Thanks to the woman in black, Radcliffe is no more. And thanks to The Woman in Black Radcliffe as Harry Potter is no more. What we see, from here on out, is his Harry-Potter-After-Life.
I do like the idea that Radcliffe is willing to explore Eel Marsh despite all the terrifying supernatural activity because, in a way, he thinks it could lead him to his wife. He daydreams of his wife several times. So where a rational person may flee the house and never return, Radcliffe stays because he wants to know more. I don't think it's as fully developed as it could have been. But this motivation is, for me, the most fascinating part of the movie.
Should you see it:
-yes, if you love Daniel Radcliffe
-yes, if you like atmospheric scary movies-no, if you only like blood and gore horror movies
-no, if you can't enjoy the thrills of a movie without being extremely bothered by a plot that doesn't fully explain itself
-yes, if you just like movies and want to go see something that's out (it has a 70% audience approval on RT (although that's down from yesterday's 73%))
% Character / % Actor's personality or past roles
Radcliffe: 70/30 (have you watched him do an interview? completely different than his character; but still sort of similar to Potter, I think, hence the 30)
Hinds: 100/0 (totally different than in The Debt or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
McTeer: 100/0 (I've never watched her in anything else, and thought she did well, so)
Harry Potter movies
Hinds: The Debt; The Phantom of the Opera (Not Tinker Tailor because he doesn't do anything)