40 years after the first haunting London is under siege from bombings during WWII and Eve, a gentle schoolteacher, is escorting a group of child evacuees to the countryside with their head-teacher Jean. They find themselves in the large, eerie estate Eel Marsh House with no choice but to take up residence there. Instead of a safe haven, the house becomes a fearful place as the children start to fall victim to a deadly curse and Eve begins to think that they aren’t alone. As the children’s lives hang in balance, it is up to Eve and a young pilot named Harry to save them from the wrath of the woman in black.
The Woman in Black was one of Britain’s most successful horrors to date, so it is no wonder that they wanted to recreate the delightful scares of the first Hammer film. Sadly we are without Daniel Radcliffe this time around and not even the addition of Harry Potter regular Helen McCrory can add much magic to this sequel.
The biggest issue with this sequel is how it approaches the fear factor of the story. Recently many horror filmmakers have decided that the fear caused by a loud abrupt noise will last longer than sustained suspense. I don’t know whether this is because they have become lazy or whether they have honestly bought into this daft idea, but I can tell you that it doesn’t. It is a shame that this film falls victim to this act, relying on jump scares rather than building tension. After seeing The Woman in Black: Angel of Death at an evening preview I had a very sound night of sleep, an experience I did not have after the first The Woman in Black film.
There are a number of reasons why The Woman in Black: Angel of Death doesn’t meet the standard set by its prequel. The pleasant young schoolteacher Eve (Phoebe Fox), the charming but haunted pilot Harry (Jeremy Irvine) and the stern but secretly caring head teacher Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory), who takes the “stiff upper lip” attitude to a new level, are likeable but wooden while their previous counterparts were more engaging and charismatic.
Additionally it is bizarre that even in the midst of something as terrifying as the Blitz, the filmmakers have failed to take full advantage of the historical setting. One sequence in a bomb shelter almost becomes a great scare, but it feels like a waste to have all of those unnerving gas masks and blackouts and not put them to good use. The most atmospheric element of the film is Eel Marsh House but even that isn’t as chilling as it was first time around. What the director has failed to realise is that the house only became truly haunting when the raw despair and unforgiving coldness of the woman in the black was allowed to poison everything around her. By reducing her to a screaming face that occasionally jumps out at you, the power of her dark backstory fades away and she ultimately looks like ineffectual extra from the Insidious series. This, alongside characters that aren’t fleshed out, makes it hard to care what happens to the poor kids or their guardians.
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death is a misstep for the Hammer studio and hopefully they will remember that it pays to nurture characters and story lines. Don’t worry, you will be keeping the lights on and getting a good night’s rest after seeing this.