Mark Reviews Movies

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tom Harper

Cast: Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Leanne Best, Oaklee Pendergast, Adrian Rawlins

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some disturbing and frightening images, and for thematic elements)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 1/2/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 2, 2015

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is an exercise in wheel-spinning. The movie is all about the buildup to its predictable scares or, better, its lack thereof. The lack is not in the predictability, mind you, but in the scares themselves. There's building tension, and then there's cheaply toying with us. This movie is a prime example of the latter.

It's not that director Tom Harper doesn't try to scare us. The moments are here: the sudden appearance of some spectral figure or face, the stinging music cue that redundantly amplifies the moment, and the loud cry that emanates from the phantom.

In my review of the first movie, I described the primary vocal feature of the ghost as "screaming at the top of her lungs." Either that description was erroneous, or the sound has been altered for the sequel. Either way, it's a high-pitched shriek here. Just as there's a difference between building tension and toying with the audience, there's a big gap between trying to scare us and attempting to blow out our eardrums. I extend my sympathies to any audience that watches this movie in a theater with a sound system that favors the treble frequency.

The real, major change between the original movie and its sequel is unavoidable, and that is the sinking feeling of inevitability. It's more than the sense of knowing what is going to happen within the formula of any given genre movie. This is the very specific sensation that results from a follow-up that doesn't try anything other than rehashing the elements of its predecessor. When the original was little more than standard-issue haunted house movie, though, that feeling of déjà vu is doubled. We know what's coming, and then we really, really know what's coming.

There are cosmetic differences, of course. The movie shifts the time period from the early 20th century to 1941, and no, a world war apparently does not stop ghosts from going about their ghastly business. The protagonist is a woman this time, specifically Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), a schoolteacher assigned to care for a group of children who have been evacuated from London to protect them from ongoing bombings.

Their new, temporary home is Eel Marsh House, the eerie manor that sits either on a hill or an island, depending on the tides of the surrounding moor. Whereas the manor and its surroundings were the atmospheric heart of the first movie, Harper and cinematographer George Steel imbue the locales with a far more generic appearance. The movie's color palette consists mostly of a drab blue-gray, and the house feels less versatile, with many scenes focusing on a hole in the ceiling of the children's room, the cellar, or the nursery where the Woman in Black (Leanne Best) primarily resides.

She is after Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), an evacuee whose parents were killed in the most recent bombing. We might remember how the Woman in Black's methods work, but it doesn't really matter. Neither does her back story, which is iterated here via a scratchy recording on an old-timey cylinder. It's as if Harper and screenwriter Joe Croker assumed that it doesn't make any difference if we can understand the exposition when it's told here. After all, we already know the background of the otherworldly villain, as it remains unchanged from the previous movie.

All that matters is that Eve, a flirtatious pilot named Harry (Jeremy Irvine), and the kids spend as much time as possible walking through the house and around the surrounding grounds in increasing states of dread and terror. Eve does most of the wandering and does it mostly at night, aided by a lantern that goes out at the least opportune times (namely, just as we catch a glimpse of the Woman in Black in the background). Even though we know—and Harper and Croker know that we know—the force that's causing the late-night creaks and thumps, the movie treats it as a mystery and subsequently goes through the motions of getting us to comprehend what's already understood.

It's redundant and dragged-out not only in plotting but also in technique. The sequences building up to the scare moments play out for so long that we begin to anticipate the reveals (It doesn't help that the timing is predictably tied to the rising and falling of the musical score). Worse, we start to lose patience with the whole process as it repeats itself over and over again. When those scare moments in The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death arrive, they're of the jump-out-and-grab-or-screech variety. It's just tiresome.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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