THE melodrama creaks as much as that famous old rocking chair in classy but cliche-ridden ghost story THE WOMAN IN BLACK (12: Momentum).
Competently adapted by Jonathan Ross’s missus, Jane Goldman, from the novel which formed the basis for the long-running West End stage hit, this Hammer feature is a reminder of the studio’s Gothic horror heyday.
Grieving lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), tormented by the death of his wife, is sent to a remote village to put a deceased eccentric’s affairs in order. He uncovers a community haunted by rampant child mortality, but the locals are suspicious of outsiders and determined to keep their tragic history a secret.
Meanwhile, the house belonging to his client is possessed by a vengeful ghost desperately seeking something that has been taken from her.
Containing elements of Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Henry James and the Victorian penny dreadful, this handsomely mounted movie has just about every staple ingredient of a spectral spine-tingler.
Using a dark old house, spooky sea fog, a creepy curse, faces at windows and superstitious locals, it captures the Hammer atmosphere and style with shadowy scares and sudden loud noises.
> Two couples meet to discuss a fight in a park between their children, hoping to settle things in a civilised manner, in CARNAGE (15: Studio Canal).
Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the play God Of Carnage is a taut and enjoyably cynical piece featuring indecently entertaining performances by Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly.
This quartet of New Yorkers get together in a cramped Brooklyn apartment to talk about the brawl, during which one of the boys suffered a couple of damaged teeth. But slowly their attempts to avoid legal problems flounder and their superficial civility disappears in an escalating cacophony of yelling, drowned mobile phones and projectile vomiting.
Although the four leads are all on top form, the pick of them is Waltz’s corporate lawyer, whose nihilist world view gives the film its title. At less than 80 minutes, it’s short, sharp and very funny and shows Polanski at the peak of his powers.
> Fast-action thriller SAFE HOUSE (15: Universal) boasts white-knuckle chase scenes and shoot-outs, although it tends to get bogged down in the complexities of the plot.
Ryan Reynolds is cast as a CIA rookie stationed in South Africa who sees his world turned upside down when rogue former agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is delivered to the safe house he mans in Cape Town.
Before Frost can be interrogated, the bolt-hole is attacked, forcing the pair to go on the run. Who are their pursuers and can they really trust everyone in the CIA camp?
Reynolds plays the initially out-of-his-depth younger operative with a mixture of fear and feistiness, while Washington is the epitome of detached cool as the type of bad guy viewers find themselves rooting for.
There’s also fine work from Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard in supporting roles.
> Katherine Heigl left Grey’s Anatomy, a half-decent medical soap opera, for a string of increasingly mediocre, decreasingly romantic comedies pairing her with bland leading men.
She may have thought she landed a plum (pun intended) when she secured the rights to Janet Evanovich’s best-selling 18-book series in which the heroine is bounty hunter Stephanie Plum.
But ONE FOR THE MONEY (12: Entertainment In Video), which Heigl also produced, is simply an exercise in star vanity – a film built around an actress so insecure she surrounds herself with non-threatening, no-name actors who make no impression at all.
Unemployed and newly-divorced lingerie buyer Stephanie decides on a radical career change. She convinces her sleazy cousin to give her a job as a recovery agent at his bail bonding company.
Things get personal when her first assignment is to track down a wanted local cop who happens to be an ex-boyfriend.
> There’s more than a touch of Shaun Of The Dead about JUAN OF THE DEAD (15: Metrodome), in which a slacker decides to save Cuba from an invasion of zombies, who turn Havana into a gory circus of flying limbs and severed heads.
News bulletins follow the government line, blaming the attacks not on the undead but dissidents in the pay of the United States