By Alexia Evripidou
Woman in Black: Angel of Death opens in 1941 London. Women, men and children seek shelter in underground bunkers as above street level zeppelin balloons fill the sky over a war torn landscape. A visually interesting start to what is inevitably an atmospheric, psychological but only mildly shock inducing horror film. Also known as Woman in Black 2, the film is directed by Tom Harper and written by Jon Croker based on a story by Susan Hill. It is the sequel to the 2012 film The Woman in Black, which starred Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe. As visually sharp as this second film is, it lacks greatly on tension and scares.
Care takers Eve (Phoebe Fox) and Jean (Helen McCroy) take a group of orphans to safety away from London. This alleged place of security ends up being a decrepit run down house in the eerie, desolate British Countryside. “The mist can roll in quickly on these marshes,” says the bus driver, setting the scene for what is predominantly a dark and misty film.
This house is the same house that Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) left 40 years earlier. And this supernatural horror film introduces the two women, a bunch of children and their new friend Harry (Jeremy Irvine) to the now abandoned Eel Marsh House. It isn’t long before Eve starts experiencing realistic nightmares and hears unusual sounds. She soon senses that this house is not what it appears to be, although in fairness, it does look exactly how one would expect a haunted house to look.
The children in her care start acting strange and one by one begin to vanish. She turns to Jean to voice her fears and ghost theories, but they fall on deaf ears. Jean is adamant, refusing to accept that there may be any form of supernatural activity taking place. Before long, the house that was supposed to represent safety and security becomes the house that nightmares are built from.
Feeling helpless and questioning her own sanity, Eve enlists the help of the cute young pilot she met on the train up from London (Harry) to help investigate what is happening. Being in the very early stages of their flirtation, Harry hangs on to her every word, believing the ramblings of this seemingly delusional Eve when no-one else would. They begin investigating the creepy, dimly lit house where they discover its secrets; the ghost of Jennet who lost her child and her promise of haunting this rather unpleasant abode. Eve also realises that it may not be a coincidence that she has come to reside in the house inhabited by the Woman in Black.
What confuses me is why they would invest in a sequel to a film whose prequel was never a great box office hit or critic’s top choice. Granted, the play which is now one of the longest-running in British theatrical history has received much accolade. However, and I say this sadly as nothing beats good horror, the film did very little to send shivers down my spine and my hair remained safely on my body.
Although visually it was super, it thrives on jump scares. It was void of any real horror innovations or the tension that gets built through atmospheric suspense. Instead it relied on dark corners and moving shadows to make it come alive. It does play with the typical horror motifs: darkness, loud bangs, cold, squeaky doors, use of silence to create atmosphere however it lacks suspense. The acting is fine, but no one stands out and most of the characters are nondescript.
Director Harper frames the occasional lovely creepy shot but most of the time they go nowhere – exciting, at best, they induce some shock. As a film, it is also pretty grey, often turning the many night scenes and indoor shots into smoky blurs. The suspense comes from the people walking around the house calling out ‘Hello’ to the spirits of the night. The main angle of the ‘fear factor’ is courtesy of the fast appearing ghosts and loud bangs, which get repeated a few too many times, making it a pretty weak story with a weak script. And with a weak script, there is very little room for the actors to play, which is a shame, as it is beautifully shot and a decently made ghost story. However, it isn’t scary and it drags.
DIRECTED BY Tom Harper
STARRING Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox
UK 2015 98 mins