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“THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 ANGEL OF DEATH” (Movie Review)

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Many horror sequels try to overcompensate for the lack of freshness by piling on the explicitness, but THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 ANGEL OF DEATH is a rare case of one holding back a bit too much.

Clearly, the creative team at Hammer Films and the new director (Tom Harper) and screenwriter (Jon Croker, working from an idea by original WOMAN IN BLACK author Susan Hill) strove to maintain the classy veneer of the Daniel Radcliffe-starring 2012 hit and avoid a cheap knockoff, and in that they have succeeded. There’s a strong sense of period and the right gloomy tone from the very beginning, which deals not with any haunting but the horrors of wartime. It’s WWII in Britain, and a group of children with no families to take them in are spirited out of London to a safe haven far from the destruction of the Blitz. The chosen location is Eel Marsh House, which, like the nearby town of Crythin Gifford, is long abandoned—and thus there’s no one there (aside from a ranting blind man) to recall or inform the newcomers that the place was once plagued by the spirit of Jennet Humfrye, who sought little souls to make up for the loss of her own son.

Chaperoning the kids are sympathetic younger teacher Eve (Phoebe Fox) and older, strict headmistress Jean (Helen McCrory), joined occasionally at Eel Marsh House by RAF pilot Harry (Jeremy Irvine), who meets cute with Eve on the train ride there, but is perhaps not completely forthcoming about why he’s not off fighting the good fight. In fact, one of the literate qualities of Croker’s script is the way most of the key characters are already suffering some sort of wartime trauma before they encounter the vindictive spirit. Most significantly, little Edward (Oaklee Pendergast, whose family was previously torn apart in THE IMPOSSIBLE) lost both his parents in the bombing the day before the trip to Eel Marsh, a tragedy that has rendered him mute—and, naturally, more attuned to the Woman’s presence.

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Would that there was more of her for the audience to experience as well. Eve catches a glimpse here and there, and there are the requisite doors apparently opening, closing and locking themselves, but the Woman is largely confined to the sidelines for a long portion of the film. Harper is more concerned with building suggestive atmosphere, and he does this well; in concert with cinematographer George Steel (his collaborator on a few episodes of the cult-building UK gangster series PEAKY BLINDERS) and production designer Jacqueline Abrahams, he drenches WOMAN IN BLACK 2 in an ominous darkness reflecting that dwelling within his characters, in a house rife with tactile physical decay. There isn’t a lot to pay it off, though, just a series of tropes familiar from the first WOMAN and other haunted-house pictures, most regrettably several clangorous jump-scares. Once the Woman eventually makes her presence known, Harper more successfully elicits a couple of shivers by having her creep into the background or sides of the frame without any distracting sound FX.

The best sequence in the first WOMAN IN BLACK is the long night Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps spends in Eel Marsh House, alone with the spirits lurking in the darkness. With more characters to deal with in the sequel, there are more subplot threads to tie up and the schematic revelation of the adults’ dark secrets to deal with; the most resonant of these actually belongs to Jean, and allows veteran actress McCrory (recently seen as PENNY DREADFUL’s Madame Kali) to make the most of the opportunity to expand the character’s shading beyond a haughty martinet. Meanwhile, aside from Edward, the children who are ostensibly the Woman’s direct targets are given almost no individualizing to allow for our empathy; one of the boys picks on Edward, one of the girls sticks up for him and that’s about it. Still, what could have been a generic sequence of one of the kids venturing alone to the haunted upstairs floor and into peril is made creepier as well as more plausible by the simple addition of a well-judged prop.

There are effective grace notes like that sprinkled throughout THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2, good performances down the line (with Fox a likable heroine) and sufficient commitment to underlying drama to make it more than the typical gratuitous sequel (and better than slick, empty supernatural schlock like OUIJA). In the end, though, the filmmakers seem a little too hesitant to deviate from the approach that worked the first time around and be more adventurous with the material. Not to say this should have been turned into a CGI show, just that in the movie that resulted, a little of the Woman has to go too long of a way.

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About the author
Michael Gingold

Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.

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