Review first published by Film4
Synopsis: The spectral ‘woman in black’ feeds off the loss and trauma of Second World War evacuees in this gothic sequel from director Tom Harper (The Scouting Book For Boys).
Review: In James Watkins’ gothic ghost story The Woman In Black, adapted from the novel by Susan Hill, sombre Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), still reeling from the death of his wife, already appeared to have one foot in the grave when he rolled up to the haunted Eel Marsh Manor. So the beauty of Tom Harper’s sequel, taking place some forty years later, in 1941, with the Blitz in full swing, is that every character here is like Arthur, already traumatised by the immense loss that a war brings.
As Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) and Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) evacuate a small group of children, including the recently orphaned Edward (Oaklee Pendergat), to the isolated house, they awaken the ghost of a vindictive mother mourning her lost son – although black-clad spectre Jennet (Leanne Best) would appear to have spent the intervening decades in the Far East for tips on how to crawl across ceilings, J-horror style. There is also a pilot there, Harry (Jeremy Irvine), desperately seeking redemption for past cowardice.
The best thing about this sequel is the production design. The house is now even more derelict than it was in its Victorian decline, and atmospheric use is made of the building’s rotten ceilings and deep shadows. Yet despite an attempt to present a classy brand of horror, every ten minutes or so there is also gratuitous resort to a cheap jump-shock, in case viewers had forgotten that this is a quickie cash-in sequel rather than an old-school classic. Fans of the 2012 ‘original’ probably will not be disappointed – but the presence of Adrian Rawlins, who played the doomed protagonist in the 1989 made-for-television movie of The Woman In Black, serves as a reminder of not only the past’s persistence, but also its degradation over time.
In a nutshell: The dark house, with age, is doubly creepy, and the WWII period setting is unusually haunted – but the boo-based thrills in this gothic sequel feel cheap and generic.