Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
The world of horror films is a rather unusual one, filled with many a sub-genre; thereby giving the makers of such films a lot to experiment upon. But then, with horror having such a wide and (I’m afraid) rather callous audience-type, the makers tend to get progressively lazier with their consecutive attempts at belting out scare-fests.
The movies earn their money anyway.
Horror franchises like Saw and Wrong Turn don’t necessarily need to be written and directed well to work financially – or even hit the cinemas for that matter. The director of the first installment of Saw – James Wan – however, re-introduced the viewers to a rather sinister lo-fi horror (Insidious, The Conjuring) that relied more on creeps and atmospheric tension than just the horror-film-checklist. While this kind of horror has already been in existence for a pretty long time now, this gave great footing to quality horror that also doubled up to have an equally engaging storyline.
Of all the films in the genre that decided to litter 2014 (Annabelle, I’m looking at you), you’d expect the new year to help the genre rise to a fresh start, wouldn’t you?
What’s it About?
It’s the 1940s and we’re in war-torn Britain, where a headmistress and schoolteacher decide to take their schooling on a far-away place, and they’re – quite obviously – placed at the Eel Marsh house. The schoolteacher – Eve Watkins (Phoebe Fox; One Day) starts to sense something sinister in the proceedings, and before you know it, the children start to kill themselves one by one, being lured to the death by an unseen force.
Dressed in black.
And out for some more vengeance.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Tom Harper knows his craft. one knows this largely because of the fact that despite the absolutely cheesy – deliberate almost – jump scare in the first few seconds of the film’s beginning, you’re treated to a lot of texture. Shots are slow, tasteful and offer a great buildup. Fox gets a great character buildup, and although there’s a heavy deja vu in how and where her character is placed in the genre, viewers will definitely want to know what’s in store for her through the rest of the film’s runtime.
The cinematography of the film is spellbinding. Using a lot of steady camerawork, George Steel directs the moving photography as such that there’s more to the frame than just the tasteful setup, thereby adding up to the atmosphere. The music adds to the atmospheric claustrophobia pretty well. Like the first film, the movie stands itself on some terrific production design, which helps flesh a lot of the film’s scenes to be full-bodied ones than just generic looking.
But of course, all of this glory ends here. Horror, as a genre, has evolved. This movie hasn’t. The big problem with the film is how desperately dependent it is on jump scares for more than two-thirds of it. Such is the disappointing frequency of the jump scares that the rather effective final act of the film doesn’t really make up for most of how the film has decided to run itself; a shame, considering how bang on the atmosphere of the film is.
The trouble is that horror fans will love it. I jumped off my seat quite a lot, and yet, five minutes post-scare, the realization of how stupid the situation was crept in almost immediately. The movie tries to be different, but in reality, despite how well Harper holds on to the story of the film, it’s Jon Croker’s less-than-average screenplay that’s the real culprit here, turning an opportunity to creep into a rather generic spook-fest that uses all the tropes in the how-to-make-horror checklist for potential box-office gold. We’ve seen a lot of horror films about the vulnerable woman-with-a-past being the subject of many a scare and how she battles it bravely by the end. Even if not entirely horror, the Alien franchise and its protagonist Ellen Ripley are a very popular example of this trope. And while there have been shining examples of female protagonists strongly being used in horror, this movie doesn’t seem to cut it, just like its miles better predecessor, which still made a bunch of unforgivable mistakes, turning it thus into an unsurprisingly generic fare.
But let’s not digress. The film should have been a whole lot more than it ends up being, and as a film on its own, is a disappointing affair.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Phoebe Fox is fantastic. She’s a restrained performer here, and her nuance shows. Despite her character limitations, thus, you end up rooting for her a lot more than you should. Jeremy Irvine is efficient in the role he’s been given. Helen McCrory is yet another absolutely strong performer, who – despite her role being cut short to conveniently focus on the protagonist – steals the scene as the stern headmistress overtime she’s on screen. Oakley Pendergast is surprisingly full of expression for a child actor, as – without dialogue – he’s able to deliver a lot more emotion throughout the film than anyone else. Everyone else is pretty much on track for the runtime of their roles.
Horror fanatics will tend to like almost every horror film. It’s quite obvious then, that this review isn’t for them. For the more discerning viewers, however, who are looking for something new, this movie will be an immense disappointment. Despite the terrific atmospheric buildup and the placement of some events throughout the film, this installment of The Woman in Black unfortunately turns out to be a highly generic fare, littered with a jump-scare too many to even rectify itself with the fantastic final act that, unfortunately, does highly well by itself.
For a rather generic horror-fest though, the movie is still a one-time watch for the performances and the set-pieces, if, however, you’re not expecting anything groundbreaking from the genre.
Star Rating: 2 / 5