The only new wide release to kick off this first weekend of 2015, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, picks up events 40 years after the events of its predecessor, a mildly amusing 2012 reboot of a famous British horror yarn starring Daniel Radcliffe and a haunted house. This follow up loses most of its charm and it’s star for a stylish, but dull horror yarn that could make for passable straight-to-DVD or VOD watching, but in this day and age, there’s really no reason for something this slight to warrant a wide theatrical release. It’s precisely the kind of film that would come out at the beginning of January while everyone remains firmly glued to holiday blockbuster holdovers and wide releasing awards fare; a film made cheap designed for some even cheaper counterprogramming bucks..
It’s 1941 and London is in the middle of the German Blitz, with the city getting pummelled by enemy fighters each and every night. Seeking safety from the bombing runs, two teachers evacuate a group of school children to a remote coastal sea side location and take refuge in the now abandoned Eel Marsh House from the first film. However, their arrival has awoken a supernatural evil.
A small part of me wishes The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death was worse than it actually was. I can’t honestly say that it was a bad movie on a technical level, but it’s certainly dull, derivative, and unoriginal. If it was either original, or at the very least engagingly terrible, it wouldn’t have felt like such a chore to watch.
Director Tom Harper makes things look good, but he already had a template in place from the first film to follow. The production values are first rate, looking like a dirtied up Downton Abbey. It looks up Hammer Films standards. The script from Jon Croker is fine in a paint-by-numbers sort of way. It’s too perfunctory to be worth a damn, though, going through standard ghost story bullet points. There’s a creepy old house, a burgeoning love story, a deep, dark secret, etc, etc, etc. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and despite passable execution of it all, there isn’t a single energetic or inspiring thing about it. It’s rote, and in that familiarity there’s a lot of boredom.
Phoebe Fox takes the lead well enough as Eve Parkins, the young schoolmistress tasked with keeping the kids alive. She has enough natural charm to be able to carry a feature and maintain a baseline of interest, but she doesn’t get enough help from the material or her co-stars. Jeremy Irvine, who has done good work in the past in movies like War Horse and The Railway Man, is in “paycheque mode” here. His chemistry with Fox is non-existent, and the love story between the two leads feels wooden and tacked on. Only Helen McCrory as headmistress Jean Hogg brings a little bit of flavour to the proceedings. It’s all flat, and by the third act when we’re getting into hokey jump scare territory, there’s officially no reason to care about any of the characters anymore.
The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death sticks to the tradition of being a January dumping ground film by generating no genuine emotion. By the end of the movie you won’t be able to get over how drab and grey it ultimately made you feel. You won’t be angry (except at the time you wasted, which for some people is worse than watching something terrible). You won’t be happy. You won’t feel a thing. I’d rather watch something that was brazenly shitty than something this painfully dull any day of the week.