So, this is Daniel Radcliffe's first film role since Harry Potter, or so I've read. Certainly the first thing I've seen him in since Harry Potter. Which, of course, is why I rented it. I had heard he has the acting chops to come out from under the shadow of his role as Harry ... and I have to agree.
The thing that made you care about Daniel as Harry - that emotional sweetness of character - is the same thing that helps him succeed as struggling lawyer and father Arthur Kipps. Arthur is about to lose his job due to lack of focus - an understandable situation, as his wife died in childbirth. Now, with a young son to support, Arthur is recruited to tackle the clearly undesirable task of managing the creepy, derelict estate of a deceased woman. Once he arrives, both mystery and mayhem ensue.
This is classic Gothic storytelling, employing all the hallmarks therein. Beautiful old estate fallen into ruin and cut off from the rest of the world, check. Tragic hero who can't resist going upstairs to investigate that curious noise, check. Fearful townsfolk, check. Underlying mystery, check. Constant state of tension-slash-foreboding-slash-fear ... check, check, check.
Movies like this scare me more than gory horror films, mostly because the bulk of the danger is in your head, rather than smeared all over the screen. Because Radcliffe clinches that emotional attachment so well, you follow him into this dangerous situation, biting your fingernails as you go. And while several of the moments of the film are clearly Gothic cliche, I can't say I was ever bored with it. The movie is a solid four out of five, lacking that last star for a few loose ends and unexplained plot points. (Where did the dog go, guys?) Most of the praise I give this film is due to the terrific set design and costuming, and of course Daniel Radcliffe's handy talent for saying a lot with just his body language. Nice job! I look forward to more of his post-Harry work.