Many factors impact how successful a horror film will be. Even a strong script can result in a less-than-impressive finished product if the director doesn’t make the right choices throughout every step of the filmmaking process. Thus, hiring someone who understands the nuances of the genre is always vital when choosing someone to direct a horror movie.
Luckily, when the people involved in making these decisions choose the perfect director, the result can be magic: a movie that manages to stay with an audience long after the credits have rolled.
For example, when seeking a director for The Woman in Black 2: The Angel of Death, the team behind the project had to find someone who would honor the strengths of the original movie, while also finding a way to push the story in a new direction. The sequel couldn’t simply be a rehash of the first movie. That said, it also needed to incorporate certain essential elements that made The Woman in Black worthy of a sequel in the first place.
The producers and studio found the ideal director in Tom Harper. A BAFTA-nominated director who had worked primarily in television before taking on the project, Harper proved to be the right person for the job. He demonstrated a strong understanding of how to make The Woman in Black 2 strike a balance between offering audiences a new experience and delivering on the expectations the first film established. Interviews with Harper indicate how he went about performing this delicate balancing act.
Atmosphere is everything
For example, one of the most striking qualities of the original The Woman in Black was its atmosphere, which might be described as eerie, foreboding, and classically Gothic. This quality can be extremely crucial in a horror film. While not every single scene should be scary—overwhelming an audience with scares can have the effect of numbing them—the dread that permeates an effective horror movie should at least keep the audience in a state of unease.
Harper clearly understood the importance of this element. In one interview, he explained that he was struck by the setting of the first film. “There is something fantastically atmospheric about the Eel Marsh House and its surroundings. The fact that it is so isolated, not only at the edge of the UK, but it is also on a causeway out at sea that gets cuts off by the tide. It is as if these forces of nature have their own maleficent presence that can blind you by the mist and cut you off from the mainland with forces out of your control.”
He went to explain that the first film took advantage of this naturally creepy setting, and he wanted to take this atmosphere even further by putting more action in the marshes, rather than in the house itself. Again, this demonstrates how Harper managed to incorporate the strong elements of the first movie, while also finding ways to build upon them.
Building the tension
Another reason The Woman in Black stood out among other horror movies released around the same time was the fact that it rarely showed the audience too much. In many cases, horror films are scarier when the filmmakers have the discipline to leave some things to the audience’s imagination and build up the sense of mystery and dread.
Once again, Harper appreciated this, and exercised the same discipline when filming the sequel. He directly stated in interviews that his goal was always to “show less rather than more.” This is yet another way in which The Woman in Black 2 embodies the positive aspects of the original.
Telling a new story in a familiar setting
However, it was also necessary to make certain key changes to ensure the sequel added something to the audience’s experience. Harper admitted he was initially skeptical about the project when he was first approached to direct it, because the end of the first film did not leave any obvious openings for a continuation of the story. He only changed his mind when he considered that setting the story four decades after the original film would allow him to make a picture that stood on its own, with new characters and a new narrative set against the same backdrop.
Harper also stated that this approach gave him more freedom to cast actors with whom he wanted to work. If a sequel were to directly continue the original film’s story, his creative freedom in this respect would have been limited. Luckily, by keeping the setting of the first movie, he was able to direct a film that offered the same atmosphere as the original, while also introducing viewers to a new cast of characters.
The result isn’t merely one of the more effective horror sequels in recent years; it’s also simply one of the scariest recent horror pictures in general. Again, this might not have been the case without the right director involved in the project. Luckily, the team behind The Woman in Black 2 took the time to find the ideal filmmaker for the role.