The novel, not the recently-released film, as horror films and I don't get along very well. Looking at some of the reviews, though, I'm struck by how resistant the film appears to have been to the novel's neo-Victorian/neo-Edwardian conceits: whereas the film generates a substantial corpse count, according to the reviews (creative suicide techniques abound!), the novel borrows heavily from the Jameses (Henry and M. R.) by relying mostly on atmosphere, psychological exploration, and deferral, with a noticeable shortage of corpses. (I gather that the film isn't all that bloody, though.) As with The Turn of the Screw, the WIB's reader spends most of her time waiting for the Something to happen; as with many of M. R. James' short stories, the Something in question cannot be laid to rest.
The Woman in Black works, in part, by foregrounding its accumulation of Victorian ghost story tropes, starting with suitably Gothic storytelling on Christmas Eve. For example, there's the choice of lawyer-as-narrator--one of those "rational, sensible young men" (65). Victorian horror frequently casts doctors, scientists, lawyers, academics, and similar types in the lead--in other words, investigators of the empirical, firmly rooted in the details of textual and/or material evidence. Such figures must either abandon their trust in their own intellectual self-sufficiency or die thoroughly unpleasant deaths. Meanwhile, the apparently provincial locals are the ones who know best what's going on. Arthur Kipps, our first-person narrator, initially determines to "face it out" (90), rather like H. James' governess ("I faced what I had to face"), once he realizes that he's seen a ghost; his insouciance about the whole affair, casting himself as "resolute, brave and stout-hearted" (100), is very much taken out of boy's adventure tales. This, itself a regular feature of Victorian Gothic--people who persist in dealing with phenomena over which they clearly have no control--is the sort of attitude that tends to produce bad results. Again, in classic fashion, the hauntings themselves manifest as endless repetitions: not only does the original event (the death of a child and several others by drowning in quicksand) repeat itself, but also the ghost's vengeance turns out to be a random, distorted transformation of her initial loss, all the more painful because of the fiction that she was not the boy's mother. (The WIB spends some time quietly eviscerating Victorian family values and codes of sexual propriety.) The novel's plot, which triangulates between London, a very small village, and Eel Marsh House, is almost Bronte-esque in its sense of claustrophobia, and there are additional literary fillips (a description of London fog straight out of Bleak House, a chapter title borrowed from M. R. James) that ground the novel's setting in literary history rather than the other variety. (Only the novel's various allusions to technology--new innovations in cars, telephones, flashlights--let us know that we're not in the nineteenth century; even Arthur's rather stuffy prose conjures up an earlier time.)
But the novel also follows its predecessors in being sternly non-redemptive. (The protagonists of an M. R. James story rarely emerge as "better people.") It's not just that Arthur fails to "develop" in any way from the experience; instead, rather like Dracula's Jonathan Harker, he's reduced to a nightmare-ridden, weakened body, his psyche permanently wrecked. Despite all his rhetoric of stalwart masculinity, which alternates with the devil-may-care boyishness--"'If you mean you think I should give up the job I've been sent here to do and turn tail and run...'" (98)--he finds that confronting Gothic horror leads to temporary madness and emotional deprivation. And the brutally abrupt ending, in which the haunting repeats itself yet again, suggests the utter pointlessness of the ghost's vengeance, from which nothing can ultimately be learned. (In fact, Arthur's brief account of his wife's final months, which emphasizes his own pain and suffering, implies that his own experiences may have rendered him more self-centered rather than less.) The most Arthur can do is conclude the tale with a brusque "[e]nough"; in the face of the ghost's implacable and unstoppable nature, weak human beings can only retreat to silence.