A once quaint town in the British countryside, now mostly abandoned and in ruins. The one living resident is a man, blind and insane, his only companions are his childhood mates, long since dead; victims of the ghostly dweller of the mansion on the island nearby. The British authorities during World War 2 view the mansion, known as the Eel Marsh House, as nothing more than a house in the country, a perfect refuge for the children of London who need a safe haven away from the bombing raids.
This is where three characters who, in their respective lives, are haunted already by trauma. There’s Edward (Oaklee Pendergast, Wer), who had just lost both his parents in the air raids. Next is teacher, Eve (Phoebe Fox, War Book), who harbors a painful secret. Lastly, we are introduced to Harry (Jeremy Irvine, Mary Shelley’s Monster), a military pilot who suffered a war-related trauma. In walk all three to an all too real haunting where, at first, the audience is lead to believe that the Woman in Black (Leanne Best, Ripper Street) centers in on Edward due to a sort of sympathy for the boy. But, in the course of the film it becomes clear she has an issue with Eve and her secret and expects to do battle over the boy’s fate.
Before I even saw this film the reviews were rushing in. And most of them were pretty bad. I didn’t read any of them, but their ratings told the tale. Even a colleague and fellow Fright Meter Awards committee member didn’t have much nice things to say about it. Needless to say, I didn’t go into this film with high hopes. And, I hate to admit it but, I was doing my best to have the same view. I was trying to dislike it. It didn’t work though. I came away from this film wondering how anybody could come away from it without at least thinking it was okay. There really isn’t anybody who can convince me that this isn’t a good film. In fact, it’s better than the first one, in my opinion. If an element of the production isn’t superior from what was part of the previous film, it equaled it, like the acting. Elizabeth McCrory (Skyfall) is a highlight (pictured below).
Director Tom Harper (The Borrowers 2011) maintains a tone that’s much like a historical drama and not a horror film throughout much of its running time. But, there’s a steady and deliberate pace that sees the tension increasing more swiftly during the second part of the film. Harper does rely a little too much on the jump-scares, though not all of those are unwelcome. The look of the film is very impressive. From cinematographer George Steel (The Honourable Woman) to production designer Jacqueline Abrahams (How I Live Now), and everything in between, this flick looks like a grade-A production.
And, let me blunt, this is the new Hammer Studios best film so far. They really should be proud of it despite the poor critical reactions. But, the poor box office is one thing that’s not easy to shrug off. As of this writing my local theater has dumped the film from its lineup.
It’s a pity that so many people are missing out on a good time at the movies.–Charles T. Cochran
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars