Following on from the success of the preceding cinematic endeavour for The Woman in Black, the responsibility of releasing an equally as accomplished sequel has fallen in to the lap of young filmmaker Tom Harper – who admits he’s enjoyed the challenge of remaining faithful to the tone of the first, while implementing his own, unique ideas.
“It was a constant consideration, because fundamentally, if you’re going to see a sequel to The Woman in Black, you’re going because you probably liked the first one,” he said. “So you want, at least in parts, some of the same stuff you had in the first. So you want to give people what they’re expecting, but you also want to move it forwards and do some new things. It helped massively being 40 years in the future because people wear very different clothes, we’re dealing with London in the blitz. I just wanted to augment it and move it in to a style that I felt comfortable with and worked for the story.”
Not only a successful movie, The Woman in Black originated as a novel by Susan Hill, and has been a force as a stage play for a number of years – and Harper admits he took inspiration from all over, but the narrative in his offering is different enough to allow him some freedom.
“The first film was obviously the starting point, but I went back to the novella to draw from other things. But it’s a different time, things have moved on, technology has moved on. I wanted to see more of the house in its surroundings so we do, the back of the house, we link it to the sea – there’s something about that isolation that I liked. So I just tried to make more of the bits that resonated with me.
“What fans can expect, is that the ghost is the same vengeful, brilliant role, but with a new set of characters, a new story, set in a new time. One of the things I like about this version, is that in the first it was just Arthur Kipps, by himself, in a house. Whereas this time we take children into the house, and there’s a real immediate jeopardy to that. Obviously there was the village before, but I like that we take children to the house.”
It’s that children – who are at the forefront of this tale – that provoke the most amount of horror, and Harper tells us that sometimes you have to try something out on set to see if it’s scary enough to include.
“By the end of the edit you’re not scared as you’ve seen it a hundred times, but on set you know if something is working. There’s a visceral reaction to something from everyone. It’s not a precise science, sometimes you don’ really know until you try it and then it works.”
Phoebe Fox and Jeremy Irvine take on the lead roles in this title, breathing new life into the franchise – particularly for the former, who is the real star of the show. But it’s the more traditional, ingrained elements that Harper loves most about this classic horror story.
“It’s a very simple idea, “ he said. “She wants vengeance and she will do that by taking your children, and that is such a terrifying thing. All horrors do really, is tap into our deepest fears and the fear of losing a child is perhaps one of the biggest fears. So there’s no surprise this is a tale that is retold generation after generation because that fear never goes away. We’ll still be telling these type of stories for the next thousand years, I have no doubt, because they can help us understand ourselves. This is meant to be an entertaining film, but the horror does serve an interesting function.”
Finally, Harper also explained how he feels the wartime setting informs the narrative – with the picture set across the Second World War.
“The sense of loss, that overall foreboding feeling. It was at a time when the loss of loved ones was a very present, daily thing people had to deal with. My hope is that it builds in to the atmosphere.”