The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is yet another example that not all successful horror movies have what it takes to become successful horror franchises.
Forty years after the events of the original Woman in Black, Angel of Death brings a new cast of characters to Eel Marsh House (and its malevolent inhabitant). Fleeing from German attacks during World War II, a group of children and their teachers evacuate the city and take refuge in the dilapidated seaside residence. Relieved to be away from the warfront, the children begin exploring Eel Marsh House while the adults settle in - preparing to wait-out the war in the countryside.
However, when Edward (Oaklee Pendergast) starts acting strange, and scaring the other kids with stories of a shadowy ghost roaming the halls of the house, Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), begins to notice unexplainable phenomenon of her own - with haunting parallels to her own life. Yet, as Eve digs deeper into the mysteries (and tragedies) of Eel Marsh House, one thing becomes increasingly clear - the new occupants might have actually been safer back in war-torn London.
A collaboration between director James Watkins (Bastille Day), writer Jane Goldman (Kick Ass), and actor Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), from a spooky source material novel by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black was a guilty pleasure for critics and moviegoers alike in 2012. While the film wasn't flawless (read our Woman in Black review), Watkins' movie featured a number of tense set-pieces, solid acting, and a captivating setting - making for an overall enjoyable (albeit forgettable) horror movie entry. Unfortunately, Tom Harper's Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is little more than a hollow cash grab.
After all, the first Woman in Black already borrowed heavily from familiar scary movie tropes (e.g., a ghostly mother figure haunting an innocent boy) - meaning that the premise, alone, never had enough unique elements to turn the titular character into a bankable horror icon. As a result, the sequel is an underwhelming (and mostly unscary) effort - built on a relatively flimsy franchise foundation. In fact, not only does Angel of Death do little to build upon the storyline established in The Woman in Black, the film outright confuses previously established mythology. The first film exercised patience when unravelling mysteries, punctuating the runtime with creepy set pieces, but the sequel adds little to the overall series canon - while relying on the same bland flavors of horror movie moments that audiences will have seen countless times before.
In the original film, The Woman in Black played a very clear role - with straightforward (albeit twisted) motivations. In Harper's entry, the relationship between the Woman, Eve, and the children, especially Edward, is not as clear - producing a convoluted mix of heavy-handed character drama and forgettable jump scares. At the very least, The Woman in Black gave viewers an interesting post-Harry Potter performance from Radcliffe, tasking the actor with a darker and more mature subject matter; though, the same cannot be said for Angel of Death's star - Phoebe Fox. The actress does her best as the tormented heroine of Woman in Black 2 but when the story piles-on one boring horror set piece after another, not to mention loads of convoluted dramatic threads, it's nearly impossible for Fox to depict Eve as anything but a cliche. Harper clearly had ambitious plans for the character, as well as her connection to the Woman in Black, but without enough scares to fill even the 98 minute runtime, subsequent plot threads and connective tissue (especially the power of loss) never made it to the screen.
Talented stage and screen performer Helen McCrory (Penny Dreadful) is reduced to one-note nonbeliever cliche but the film's 1941 setting does allow for inclusion of at least one fresh addition to the haunted house movie formula - Jeremy Irvine as a World War II pilot, Harry Burnstow. While most of Burnstow's actual arc, and the actor's performance, are muddled by Twilight-inspired melodrama, adding the character enables the film to sidestep some conventions (especially in the third act) with moderately inspired use of the historical time period.
For that reason, the historical backdrop, and the core reason for a return to Eel Marsh House, is easily the most engaging aspect of Harper's film - but the World War II setting still isn't enough to set the sequel apart in a genre filled with superior psychological horror projects (see: The Babadook). Nearly every attempted scare, plot thread, and character arc fails to warrant respective screen time - much less the production of a Woman in Black sequel at all. Most viewers (even the biggest Woman in Black fans) will likely walk away with the impression that the movie is little more than cheap jump scares - most of which the audience will anticipate ahead of time (or will have seen spoiled in the trailers).
While Angel of Death's predecessor never reached its full potential, The Woman in Black often delivered where it counts - with sinister build-ups leading to moments of tension and fright. The sequel, on the other hand, fails to adequately develop on a single setup - delivering only fleeting scenes of creepiness, and some downright eye-rolling character drama, rather than impactful spooks. Ultimately, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is yet another example that not all successful horror movies have what it takes to become successful horror franchises.
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death runs 98 minutes and isRated PG-13 for some disturbing and frightening images, and for thematic elements. Now playing in theaters.
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