A solid sequel to British horror hit


Horror/98min/Opens Jan 15

The story: Set about 40 years after the events of the first film, when Germany bombed Britain during World War II, the movie tells the story of schoolteacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), who is dispatched with a class of evacuees and their schoolmaster Jean Hogg (Helen McRory) to seek shelter at the Eel Marsh House, in the village of Crythin Gifford.

Among the children is the recently orphaned Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), with whom Eve is particularly close to.

On the way to Crythin Gifford, Eve meets a dashing young pilot named Harry (Jeremy Irvine), and a sort of romance starts to blossom between the two. But a ghostly presence soon makes itself known and children start dying.

The Woman In Black started its life as a best-selling novella by author Susan Hill in 1983. It then became a long-running West End stage play. In 2012, it became a surprise smash hit horror film starring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe.

The film raked in about US$130 million (S$160 million) at the box office worldwide, making it the highest grossing British horror film in the last 20 years.

With those kind of numbers, surely a sequel is inevitable. The only surprise is that it has taken this long for the studios to realise how ripe the material is for franchise building.

However, it is crucial to know how and where they would want to take this franchise. Judging from the sequel, they have - thankfully - avoided the strategy taken by Piranha 3DD (which is basically a remake of Piranha 3D, only in a different setting).

Instead, they have chosen the Final Destination route (using one's worst fears as the driving force).

As is now common knowledge among fans of the first film, Jennet Humfrye is a vengeful spirit residing at the long abandoned Eel Marsh House who, in a clever twist to normal horror cliches, does not actually kill her victims but entices them to commit suicide.

What makes it more disconcerting is the fact that she entices children, not adults, to commit suicide, and there is probably nothing more frightening in the world than the thought that something bad might happen to your child.

It is this simple fact that gives the first movie, and also this one, much of its power.

As is the norm in horror films, the phrase "exorcising your demons" can usually be taken to mean both ways, as in literally exorcising the ghosts or demons in the movie, and also metaphorically exorcising the demons inside the protagonists; in other words, whatever secrets or psychological walls they may have built up in their minds.

If the metaphoric demon inside Radcliffe's Arthur Kipps character in the first movie was the fact that his wife died giving birth to his son, the demon inside schoolteacher Eve in this movie is the fact that her son was taken away from her as a result of an unwanted teenage pregnancy.

Although a minor character, pilot Harry also has his own demons to exorcise. The presence of his character is sturdy proof of what a well-oiled machine the solid screenplay for this sequel is.

And with the franchise rules established, each movie can be a self-contained story of its own.

There is no need to have the same set of characters or actors. Nor a specific time or specific setting. All you need is the presence of Jennet Humfrye. And she can be... anywhere.