The Woman in Black, 2012’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s book of the same name, was an authentically creepy and pleasingly old-fashioned ghost story, hampered somewhat by a poor lead character and an unconvincing performance from Daniel Radcliffe.
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death suffers a reverse of the first instalment’s fortunes, boasting as it does, a far better lead character and performer, but falling down somewhat in terms of the atmosphere and scares.
Set decades after the first film, this sequel sees children from London being evacuated to the country in order to escape the bombs routinely falling on the city as part of the Blitz. They might have been better off chancing their luck in the war, as, of course, it’s the rather haunted Eel Marsh House that they’re shipped off to, led by thorny headmistress Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory), and likable young teacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox). It’s not long before the titular ghoul reappears, and their sanctuary turns into anything but.
As the lead, Phoebe Fox is hugely engaging and likable, and is far more at home in the period setting than Radcliffe ever was. Her earthy, believable performance anchors the film wonderfully. The film itself feels like a far more modern affair than its very deliberately paced and atmospheric forbear. As such, Angel of Death lacks the old fashioned ghost-story vibe that was so pleasing about the first instalment, and instead relies more on an increasing succession of jump-scares.
Jump-scares can be great fun when used sparingly, but here they’re overused. There are some cheap, some obvious and some that are admittedly very effective, but the overuse of the device means that the audience is always waiting for the next one; always primed for the next attempt to scare. And that ruins the immersion in the world of Eel Marsh House: it pulls you out of the experience.
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death is rendered similar to a rollercoaster that you know by heart – you might still enjoy the ride, but you’re all-too familiar with every turn and drop. You may well jump out of your seat once or twice, but jumping out of your seat is not the same as being scared, and this sequel features none of the intense creeping dread of the original.
There are some nice moments, though. A sequence towards the end is particularly innovative, featuring as it does a mock-airfield, populated with wooden planes and empty buildings. It’s a unique setting and the notion of finding yourself in a ‘ghost-airfield’ at night is inherently unsettling even if there weren’t a real ghost haunting you.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film lacks such invention, featuring as it does a succession of kids that we don’t know or care about being picked-off one-by-one by the spectre, while attempts to paint further backstory for the Woman herself – another aspect of the original that lent that first film some heft – are muddled and fall largely flat here.
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death is certainly fun, and if it won’t cause you sleepless nights, it will at least have you gripping the armrests waiting for the next jump to hit you, and if it’s not as authentically frightening as the first film, some of the more obvious scare-tactics here are at least handled effectively by director Tom Harper. And, with Phoebe Fox, it boasts a genuinely great horror heroine.
It’s just frustrating that, while Angel of Death improves upon the original’s shortcomings, it fails to learn from its successes.
Released in UK cinemas on Thursday 1 January 2015.
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