Eel Marsh House hasn’t changed much since last we dropped in on the murky old manse. There’s still a crucifix out there in the muddy floodplain, and that one room with the door that keeps popping open still shelters the creepiest collection of monkey, clown, and baby dolls ever assembled. Nowadays, though, in place of Daniel Radcliffe dropping by, the place is inhabited by a coterie of traumatized London kids. They’ve been transplanted to the morbid countryside due to the blitz, it being World War II and all. As for that titular revenant in the gloomy gowns, despite the assumptions you might have made at the end of the last film, she never left. And yep, she’s still luring the kiddies to untimely dooms. Some things stay the same: 19th-century ghosts need sequels, too.
Sad to say, however, this doesn’t really strengthen the franchise, though the irony factor is strong. The first scenes of The Woman in Black 2 feature kids hiding underground from German bombers. So the ghostly doings are only slightly more terrible than reality. But director Tom Harper never really makes the connection weigh on us, with the strong exception of a scene set on a decoy RAF airbase. Instead, the story winds around character flaws, though Harper doesn’t build on his corrupt foundations.
Virtually violence-free onscreen, 2 is a kind-of cozy ghost story — which is especially weird considering England’s super-bloody Hammer Studios made the flick. Meanwhile, Susan Hill’s neo-Gothic novella is now in danger of outliving its usefulness. The book spawned a play — the second-longest running on the West End ever — which became a BBC television show, then a film, and now this. If you get a chance, don’t pass up the American ghost thriller The Lady in White. This basic black-dressed spook just seems out of fashion.