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Woman in Black Angel of Death, The

D: Tom Harper / 98m

Cast: Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory, Oaklee Prendergast, Adrian Rawlins, Ned Dennehy, Amelia Crouch, Amelia Pidgeon, Casper Allpress, Pip Pearce, Leilah de Meza, Jude Wright, Alfie Simmons, Leanne Best

London, 1941. The Blitz has caused the evacuation of several schoolchildren along with their headmistress, Jean Hogg (McCrory) and their teacher, Eve Parkins (Fox). As they take the train to their destination of Crythin Gifford, Eve shares a compartment with RAF pilot Harry Burnstow who is on his way to a new posting at a nearby airfield. Met by local air raid warden Dr Rhodes (Rawlins), he takes them through the now deserted village where the bus has a puncture. While it’s repaired, Eve encounters a blind man, Jacob (Dennehy) who warns her that she and the children will never escape “her”.

At Eel Marsh House, the two women and their charges settle in. Eve has a bad dream that leads to her seeing a woman dressed all in black (Best). The figure vanishes, but the next day, one of the children, Edward (Prendergast), who has been mute since the death of his parents in an air raid, is locked in the nursery by two other children, and sees the woman in black. Afterwards, Edward carries a tattered doll around with him. That night, one of the boys who locked him in the nursery is led from the house by the woman in black; the next morning he’s found dead.

Another sighting of the woman in black in a graveyard leads Eve to discover her identity and the sad history of her child, Nathaniel. With Eve becoming even more convinced that they are all in danger, she battles to convince Jean that they should all leave as soon as possible. An air raid sees the woman in black claim another victim, and with the aid of Harry, they head for the airfield where he’s based. While they wait for the morning to come, Edward is spirited away back to Eel Marsh House. Eve refuses to leave him behind and makes her way back to rescue him.

Woman in Black Angel of Death, The - scene

Set forty years after the events of The Woman in Black (2012), this unnecessary sequel fails to match the quality and all-round scariness of its predecessor, and thanks to a badly constructed screenplay by Jon Croker, almost reduces its titular character to making little more than a cameo appearance.

The success of the original always meant there would be a sequel, and with the decision to set the new story during World War II it seemed as if the makers had come up with an idea that would avoid the usual horror sequel inanity that most follow ups suffer from. Alas, the wartime setting is the only good idea the makers have come up with, and the rest of the movie is as turgid and predictable and run-of-the-mill as any other horror sequel.

With the woman in black’s story told in the first movie, its resurrection here feels like padding in a movie that repeats various shots and sequences in an attempt to promote a sense of menace that never really pays off. Eve has the same nightmare over and over, and while it replays with different outcomes (including a bone-wearying appearance from you-know-who on one occasion), and serves to provide Eve with a back story of her own, the script’s intention for it to be as scary as what’s happening in Eel Marsh House never pans out. Likewise, the oft-repeated shot looking upward at the hole in the ceiling above Edward’s bed – will we glimpse the woman in black there? – is played over and over and becomes tiresome in the extreme.

That a potential franchise has run out of steam so soon may not be surprising to some, but the strength of the original in comparison to this outing is too evident for any other analysis. As a main character, Eve is too blandly presented to have much of an impact, and the viewer has a tough time sympathising with her or her predicament, even when mad, blind Jacob has her temporarily imprisoned. The same goes for the character of Jean, the rationalist who denies the supernatural until it’s literally staring her in the face (and then is all nice and apologetic). Both Fox and McCrory are more than capable actresses, but even with their talents they’re unable to raise their performances above the level of perfunctory. Worse still is Harry, a character so unimaginatively drawn that Irvine is unable to add any colour or flesh him out to an extent that would make him more interesting.

As for Jennet Humpfrye herself, the movie places her firmly in the background, giving her less exposure and as a result, making her less menacing. As a supposedly single-minded, revenge-oriented character she’s remarkably relaxed in her efforts to kill the children placed so conveniently in her home (especially after forty years). And with the change in actress – Best taking over from Liz White – the look and design of the woman in black has been altered somewhat, with Jennet looking younger and less intimidating behind her veil. It’s a sign that not all’s well, that the movie’s primary source of scares and shocks is not as effectively rendered as before (and perhaps this is why we see so little of her, the makers realising how tame her appearance looks in comparison).

To make matters worse the interiors of Eel Marsh House are gloomily lit and make it difficult to see what’s going on when the action takes place at night, while the exteriors are equally bleak and forlorn. It’s all done for the sake of atmosphere but makes the movie an unappealing viewing experience nevertheless. Orchestrating it all, Harper forgets to imbue the movie with a sense of credible peril, and one jump scare aside, defaults on the terror as well. It all leads to an ending that is rushed and dramatically unsatisfactory, and reinforces the feeling that the makers could have done a whole lot better.

Rating: 4/10 – a movie that plays at being scary but doesn’t deliver, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death aims high but succeeds only in being mediocre; a poor effort by all concerned, and one that (hopefully) will discourage a further movie from being made.