Full disclosure: I never saw The Woman in Black before seeing the sequel. We all have those movies that we meant to check out but never got around to it for whatever reason, and this was one of mine. Watching the first Daniel Radcliffe-led film was not a mandatory prerequisite, thankfully. However, upon seeing The Woman in Black 2, any interest I still had in checking it out was quickly smothered.
As I understand it, the only links between The Woman in Black and the sequel are the house and the title ghost who haunts it. While the former centers on a recently widowed lawyer (Radcliffe) come to the house to settle the affairs of the deceased, the latter introduces us to the young caretaker of a group of children 40 years later. Because of “The Blitz,” the Nazi aerial bombings against London during World War II, Eve (Phoebe Fox) and her headmistress escort these kids to a remote location for safety, as their parents (for various reasons) cannot leave the city. Among the group is Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), whose silence masks the pain of his parents’ death by the most recent attack. Eve’s instinct is to nurture the poor boy, but the headmistress is cold and demands that the boy learn strength.
During a lengthy train ride, Eve encounters a handsome pilot who just so happens to be stationed in the same area she’s heading towards. The group soon arrives at the creepy Eel Marsh House, and the movie picks up steam. From the looks of it, you just know some ghostly shenanigans are about to go down -- there’s barely any electricity, the structure is falling apart, a fog skulks around the grounds, and a cross jutting out from the water marks a haunting grave (that of Nathaniel from the first film). Unfortunately, Eve is told that this is the only location available and they’re forced to make the best of it ... that is until the ghost takes a shine to Edward, and starts tormenting Eve and the children.
Normally, I’m all for jump scares. In fact, I live for them. But, as is the case with The Woman in Black 2, it seems lazy when that’s all a film has in its arsenal of scare tactics. Nothing could be lazier or as uncreative as last year’s Ouija, but I still found myself wanting to scream “Stop jumping out at me!” at The Woman In Black 2, the same way I would chastise an annoying child with too much energy to spare.
Take those away, and what’s left? The story of a ghost who’s taking her aggression from losing her child out on Eve through her charges. As we learn through dream sequences and the message the ghost leaves etched into a wall, the reason she targeted Eve is because she “let him go.” Let who go? Eve had a child when she was younger, but because of her age, it was taken away. She fought to see her baby, but inevitably gave up after years of searching. Sorry, Woman in Black, but that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to focus all your energy on making this woman’s life a living nightmare. Considering the ghost’s reason for haunting, it’d make more sense to feel sympathy for Eve and attacking, perhaps, the cold-fronted headmistress instead.
At first, I thought that Eve’s gentleman caller had a stronger connection to this story, particularly in light of a seemingly foreshadowing moment as he’s riding away from the house. We see him stop just past Nathaniel’s grave marker and have a mild panic attack. But, nope, the reason behind it is nothing as creative as anything you’re likely thinking up right now. His only purpose in the film seems to be sprinkling male eye candy around before swooping in to save the day on a few occasions. In fact, the story could’ve had a much stronger effect if it cut him out, entirely. The Woman in Black 2 began and ended with Eve’s motherly relationship with Edward, and the wedge the ghost strikes between them. But in the end, the emotional effect is muddled and the epic climax is disappointing.
Despite these issues, The Woman in Black 2 is by no means the worst piece of horror cinema out there. It easily seduces you with its stunning gothic settings and British fashion staples worthy of a classical horror story, and the jump scares do indeed fulfill their purpose. Though, at times these visuals are almost too shadowed to the point where you can’t even see what’s supposed to be making you tremble.
I’ll probably go back and check out the first movie one of these days. But thanks to this one, I’m not going out of my way to do so anytime soon.