|Starring||Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Leanne Best, Oaklee Pendergast|
|Release||2 JAN 2015 (US) 1 JAN 2015 (UK) Certificate 15|
I'll try and explain. I've noticed a fair bit of fourth-wall breaking in modern horror to achieve a quick "BOO!" (like the final frame of Sinister, in which the ghoulie Bughuul sticks his face in front of the camera just when you think it's all over with, and makes you jump). This effectively introduces the viewer as a character, so it's difficult as it is to remain in the story afterwards. But the false-start scare really takes me out of it, because in a narrative sense it can only be attributed to two possible things.
One, it's a coincidence that this bird has just flapped at the window and startled the character. The bird is not supernatural or possessed by a malevolent force. It's just a bird. Why, then, are we being shown the scene happening when it's insignificant? Because the filmmaker is manipulating something narratively benign in order to trick us into being startled.
Two, the bird is somehow possessed by the Woman in Black, who wants to scare Eve. Why doesn't she just make it peck her eyes out, then, and get it over with? This suggests a desire on the Woman's part to toy with the house's inhabitants; a certain pleasure in eking out the proceedings as emotional torture. This might fit OK with an antagonist like Freddy Krueger, whom it's established has a sadistic streak, but not so much with a demonic spirit who just wants everyone to bog off and leave her alone. Alternatively it suggests a willingness to give fair warning: Hey, I'm an ancient Satanic tormentor, possessed of the spirit of the Devil himself in corporeal form, but that's not to say I'm unreasonable. The bird thing is my way of asking you nicely to leave, if it's not too much trouble, but if not I'll be forced to take it up with the local government ombudsman.
Either way, it reminds me that I'm watching a film and stops me from losing myself in it. This isn't a criticism of this film; more the genre itself. Horror has its generic crutches more than most, and I'm happy with this as long as the films have some ideas within their well-worn structures. But this one's always an impasse for me.
For its own part, Woman In Black 2 is a well-worked if slightly pedestrian horror film, with a couple of particularly good scares in it, and trades well on the idea of the Blitz as a time of uncertainty to upend its characters and ready them for a bit of a pasting from the Woman. And especially satisfyingly, it is a genuinely female-led film, in which the main protagonist is a woman with proper agency, coming up with all the ideas and battling the dark forces herself. This continues a trend in horror I saw in Mama, and it's great to see. In closing I'd like to say ... wait a minute, I think there's someone downstairs ... hang on, I'll creep down there in the dark to see what it is. Very slowly, of course. It's ... it's ... AAAARGHH! Oh, it was only the dog. Go to bed, Inadvertent Brechtian Alienation Device! Good boy.