Perhaps the biggest question some fans of Susan Hill’s original Woman in Black treatment will ask is that of, “did she sell out?” After a very successful publication run, the narrative about Jennet Humfrye’s eternal lament because she can never be reunited with her son, Nathaniel, will never change. If she can not find peace, nor will anyone else who decides to make their residence at Eel Marsh Manor. Once when Jennet’s spirit catches sight of a mortal youth, that person is doomed to die. That’s the curse. There’s no rhyme or reason to reveal beyond that to create an effective horror tale.
While the first film dealt with the isolation of horror, the second focuses on the desolation. Against the backdrop of World War II during the London Blitz, Eve (Phoebe Fox) becomes an unwilling governess to a group of children who are to be evacuated to the English countryside for their safety. Unfortunately for one, a young Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), who lost his parents during a recent bombing, his remorse draws the attention of the spirit of Jennet. There’s no mystery to who the Woman in Black is, but instead, there’s a question of why she’s called the Angel of Death. Her shadowy presence almost represents the fear all Brits had during this time because of the regular bombings that occurred. Although this mean spirit does not represent Nazi Germany, the subtext in Jon Croker’s screenplay certainly implies it. He might have worked from a spec sheet that Susan Hill wrote for a cinematic adaptation. She most unlikely wrote a novella either. If she did, that would have been published instead of the novelization by crime-fiction author Martyn Waites. This noticeable fact undermines whatever themes Hill might have intended for the movie.
Instead of an authentic Susan Hill piece of gothic horror, what’s presented is more of a studio product with Hammer Films controlling all aspects of the franchise. Once when that word is coined, most people will begin to roll their eyes as all creativity is most likely tossed out the window. Business executives than auteur filmmakers will decide just what the Woman in Black’s purpose is than the other way around.
Although this film’s melancholy cinematic landscape makes for some great visual design, that alone is not enough to save this film. Jeremy Irvine’s (War Horse, The Railway Man) role in the film is under-utilized. As Harry Burnstow, a disgraced air-pilot, this character can do a lot more for both Eve and Edward when he realizes what’s going on. As a soldier getting stationed near the village of Crythin Gifford, some viewers might be wondering why he hasn’t heard the stories about the haunted house in the marsh. He’s often seen running errands, and he should have heard something about this area’s history. And instead of visiting the ill-fated house to court Eve, he would have been doing everything he could to convince them to leave. When there’s hardly anyone left in the Gifford, save for blind man Jacob (Ned Dennehy), whom everyone meets, none of them clue in to the fact that there may be something wrong about this countryside.
When the British government is concerned, they will not necessarily know the details of every abode that’s to provide shelter. That can be forgiven. But when this story is set during the war, just how it affects people really must be examined more. There’s plenty of psychological trauma to develop from but that’s an opportunity missed.
Now if Hammer Films really wanted to make a mark with their comeback into theatres, they should maybe consider more of an artistic direction by examining the works of Max Ernst in the next Woman in Black film. Another film is inevitable. To see how the Nazi’s fare by occupying Eel Marsh Manor in a Silent Hill operation will not necessarily result in them dealing with the paranormal. But when the next occupants discover them along with a mad spirit can make for some insane confrontations!
3 Stars out of 5