The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2015) / Horror-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some disturbing and frightening images, and for thematic elements
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine, Oaklee Pendergast, Helen McCrory, Adrian Rawlins, Leanne Best
Director: Tom Harper
Screenplay: Jon Croker
Review published January 2, 2015
I go to the movie theater more times in a year than some people do in their lifetime, and surprisingly, while I've seen many people nodding off (including people I'm at the theater with), I've never actually heard a person snore before. That is until The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, that is. And this was a noon-time matinee, mind you, and not some 10pm showing where such a thing may be common. Rather than annoyance, I was more envious of the person who was able to sleep so soundly, as this is one 90-mnute film that feels at least twice that long, and so dimly lit, it made looking at my watch to see how much longer I'd have to endure it quite the chore.
Hammer's The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death gives us more of the same creepy house on the island that we experienced from 2012's The Woman in Black, except with new people to haunt in a different era. The begrudgingly lit, foggy and color-drained visuals are also back, as well as the titular ghost known as the "woman in black" we experienced chasing around Daniel Radcliffe in the prior effort (contrary to the title, she's no angel).
This sequel begins in 1941, with the Germans blitzing Great Britain with bombers in World War II. Several children who have no families to take them in are escorted by a school headmistress named Jean Hogg (McCrory, Skyfall) and a schoolteacher named Eve Parkins (Fox, "Switch") to a secluded estate in the countryside to continue their schooling away from the bombs. One of those students is a mute loner named Edward (Pendergast, The Impossible), who begins to act weird and draw eerie portraits of a woman and child, and starts to write to Eve about how an unseen woman has been talking to him. It's up to Eve, as well as a handsome suitor in the form of British pilot Harry Burnstow (Irvine, The Railway Man), to get to the bottom of the hauntings before any harm is done to these children.
The first thing you'll wonder when watching Woman in Black 2 is whether somebody has accidentally left something draped over the front of the film projector that is making it such a dark movie to watch throughout. I can't think of a single film that has made me squint so much to try to see what's going on, to the point where, had I not witnessed a handful of trailers in brightly lit, vibrant colors just prior, I'd swear there must have been an error during setup in the theater. It's dark, grey, and gloomy throughout -- not poorly shot, but definitely decidedly murky.
Once you get beyond the washed-out visual style, another problem is presented: the story is dreadfully generic and subsequently boring, especially as much of the backstory is related through verbal exposition rather than visual demonstration. The actors are well-cast, and the direction holds it all together fine enough, but this is a story that just feels far too familiar to anyone who has ever seen a haunted house film or two. There are a number of jump scares -- thankfully few and far between -- but they are mostly false ones that are just placed there to remind us we're watching a horror movie and not a straight up gothic drama -- the Woman in Black is barely in the film, as if only appearing due to contractual obligation more than anything else.
I feel bad about bestowing The Woman in Black 2 with a low rating, given that there's nothing wrong with it save for its consummate blandness, but, honestly, that probably makes it even tougher to endure than an out-and-out awful movie, since it's not even something one can laugh at. Atmosphere can only get you so far in a chiller; at some point, you need to build up characters and situations to generate suspense. Just having kids in peril isn't enough to be a quality fright-fest, and I'd even argue that it's a detriment. I said it for the first movie, but here I'll reiterate: watch The Orphanage instead.
©2014 Vince Leo