The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

woman in black 2 1.jpg
UK Release Date 1st January 2015
Director Tom Harper
Starring A Big House & A Marsh
Runtime 98 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 28th December 2014

We've said it before here and we'll no doubt say it again, we love to be scared. Anything with a creeping supernatural dread is a winner for us, this year's The Conjuring was a decent example of this. Daft as a brush but put together well enough for us not to ponder it too much. 2012's Woman in Black did the job just as well, Daniel Radcliffe just about convincing as a grown up and Eden Lake's James Watkins doing a great job of keeping the terror just off screen until the last moment. We were not expecting a sequel.

Now that said sequel has arrived, we're even less convinced it needed one. The Woman in Black: Angel of Death picks up forty years on from Arthur Kipps' fateful visit to Eel Marsh House. In the centre of war-torn London, we meet up with bossy head teacher Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) and young teacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) as they prepare a group of school children to be evacuated to the countryside away from the nightly bombing plaguing the city. They are forced to wait at the station for the final child of the group; young Edward whose parents were killed in a bombing raid the previous night. Edward pitches up looking suitably distressed and non-communicative, and everyone troops off to Eel Marsh House, abandoned and left derelict since the events of the previous movie.

On the train to the countryside, Eve has a chance encounter with dashing RAF pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), also heading out to his base near to the fateful house. En-route to the house from the station, the party blow a tyre and Eve has an odd encounter with a local hermit whilst she waits for the car to be repaired. Arriving at the house, the warden makes it clear that this is all that is available, despite the rundown state of the place. Paint peels from the walls, electric lights are only available on the ground floor and there is a hole in the ceiling. Directly above troubled child Edward's bed. Spooky shenanigans ensue.

I say spooky, that's not really what I mean. Bland is probably a better word. I'm not even convinced that shenanigans is applicable. This is a movie attempting very much to replicate the spine chilling isolation of its predecessor, whilst doing something different but failing to do so on pretty much every level. The house is by far the most interesting character in the whole piece, wonderfully derelict with paint almost creeping off the walls and every window an opportunity for a half hidden face to appear from nowhere but even that is far too well lit to be any real threat. You suspect the movie is in trouble when the bus breaks down and despite the lack of torches or headlights, everything is bathed in a chill-free blue glow, removing all the threat and immediacy from the horror.

Once in the house, the ghost begins to pick off the children but even this is deflating dull. Creepy Edward draws dark pictures and is taunted by his school friends and a menacing hand appears in the hole above his bed. Scared yet? No, me neither. The introduction of too many people to the house removes any real sense of isolation and Irvine's RAF pilot fails to add anything interesting to the plot. Oh, he's troubled? Hiding something? Not all he seems? Yeah, all that.

In the central role, Phoebe Fox makes the most of a threadbare script. Denizen of mostly TV fare to date, we look forward to seeing her in something more interesting. The remainder of the cast mostly do what they need to but not a lot else. Jeremy Irvine’s RAF pilot is stereotype square jawed English to the point of a Naked Gun skit but to be fair, there isn’t a lot else to be done with a character with such a telegraphed back story. The biggest failure is probably the ghost, and that’s no reflection on Leanne Best. There is merit in keeping your creep to the margins for the most part and only releasing her occasionally, but here director Tom Harper takes this to the extreme. I counted about five appearances of the ghost, in various half seen forms, and not one of them had me in any particular anguish. To be honest, by an hour in, I was praying to the god of all things Hammer for a jumping cat scare. It didn’t come and I was left pondering just how badly misjudged this whole effort was.

And misjudged it is. Harper and his team have taken the wonderfully gothic, bleak isolation and trauma of the original novel and movie, and stripped everything out in an attempt to make something differentiated from that movie. In place of these things, what we end up with is a group of people, largely baffled by some strange events that lack any kind a chill, rattling around a large house.… and that’s about it. A last minute decamp from Eel Marsh House is the final nail in the coffin and we’re reduced to watching Irvine run around a fiery airfield attempting to do lord knows what. The final shot of the movie will be expected by anyone who has ever seen a ghost story but is so out of context, even that doesn’t provide any relief.

Woman in Black: Angel of Death (the 2 seems to come and go, depending on what you’re looking at), is pretty much a failure on all levels. The characters aren’t developed enough for you to care about their fate, the whole movie is lit too brightly to leave you with any real sense of dread and the wonderfully dressed and isolated Eel Marsh House is left only as a stark reminder of how effective the first movie was and how poor this one is. As bereft of scares as it is of a proper ghostly presence, this should see the burgeoning franchise off nicely. Hammer needs to delve back into its scary toolbox if it is serious about reclaiming its horror throne. With this misfire and the equally limp (though much more interesting) The Quiet Ones, the studio that once ruled this kind of thing is really struggling for relevance. As a stark pointer to that, I watched a screening of the superb Quatermass and The Pit recently at the BFI. The Hammer execs that dealt with this movie should go back and watch that one. That is how you make a spooky movie. There is more terror in five minutes of poking around the Hobb Lane houses in that movie than this one manages in 98 minutes.

Check out the trailer here.

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