Followups to successful movies – especially ones as unexpectedly successful as 2012’s Daniel Radcliffe starring The Woman in Black, Hammer Film’s massively triumphant return to all things spooky – have a habit of subscribing to the laws of diminishing returns, and The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death is no exception, offering less of everything that made its predecessor work.
With the first film – an adaptation of a long-running and critically-acclaimed stage play, which was itself based on a much beloved novel by Susan Hill – becoming the highest-grossing British horror film in decades, a sequel was almost always on the cards. Problem was, the original was always meant as a standalone bit of storytelling. Enter Martyn Waites, who penned a novel sequel from an idea by Hill, with the sole intention of having it turned into a screenplay later. The novel was universally panned. And somehow they went and made a movie adaptation anyway.
Set 40 years after the events of the first film, Angel of Death opens as Nazi Germany’s WWII blitz of English cities forces schoolchildren to be taken to the safety of the countryside, where they are to be minded by their schoolmarms. The marms in question here being Phoebe Cox’s timid heroine Eve Perkins and her battleaxe superior Ms. Hogg (Helen McCrory), while the countryside safety is to be provided by the very same Eel Marsh House of the first film. The latter being an absolute laughable concept due to at least the house’s dilapidated state, and at most the fact that it is a legendary haunted manor of death and horror. Despite her packed schedule of ignoring the fact that she finds herself in a fog-swaddled Lovecraftian nightmare – complete with a raving madman trying to ward her off – Ms Perkins still finds the time to flirt with dreamy RAF pilot Harry (Jeremy Irvine), whom she meets on the portent-filled drive over.
Once settled in to the manor – as much as you can be in a Victorian death trap – Ms Perkins starts noticing some odd goings-on, all of which rapidly escalate to lethal levels as a child turns up dead under mysterious circumstances. Circumstances that seem to swirl around both her own troubled past with an abandoned child, as well as a mute boy, Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), orphaned in the bombing of London the night before the kids left the city.
Cue the obligatory self-rocking chairs, creepy dolls, ethereal whispers and ghostly women glimpsed in the periphery, as director Tom Harper and screenwriter Jon Croaker (adapting Waites’ novel) lead us on a predictable tour of all the usual paraphernalia associated with the genre. The first film could be criticized of employing the very same bag of tricks, but it overcame their banality through a charismatic lead in a post-Harry Potter Radcliffe and a constant, nerve-shredding sense of dread that subtly dug its hooks into your brain and never let go.
Harper eschews such subtlety, being content with nothing more than standard jump scares accompanied by disappointingly canned musical cues from composer Marco Beltrami. And while some of these scares do occasionally offer some genuine chills and thrills (there’s a moment involving a broken ceiling board that’s a hoot!), they merely stand as the punctuation between lengthy sentences of dreary nothingness as Ms Perkins goes about trying to solve a mystery that the audience stopped caring about long ago. The fact that said mystery also doesn’t make easily discernible logical sense certainly doesn’t help matters either.
But at least the acting from all involved, while not particularly noteworthy, is suitably adequate and inoffensive. Cox and Irvine turn in decent work with the material they’re given, while British screen regular McCrory is exactly the type of barbed and icy headmistress you would expect. Harper and his production crew should also be commended for a movie that looks fantastic, with some gorgeous cinematography and art direction on display as they capture the arresting, eerily abandoned vistas of Eel Marsh. If only as much effort was put into better developing the film’s script and characters as was its striking visuals.
Presenting mostly lackluster thrills that tend to slump more than they go bump in the night, The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death just lacks the oppressive atmosphere, engaging narrative and trouser-dampening suspense that propelled its predecessor to record-breaking results. Whether due to its lack of Harry Potter or something else, this franchise has already lost its magic.
Last Updated: March 6, 2015