Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, The

Rating:

An Overabundance of Jump Scares

Main Cast: Phoebe Fox and Helen McCrory

Director: Tom Harper

Despite it’s flaws, including a really terrible ending, I was one of the people who quite liked 2012’s The Woman in Black. So when I heard a sequel was coming, I was immediately interested. Unfortunately, I never got to enjoy it in the theater, but having finally got the chance to see it, I have to wonder if that’s not the perfect way to enjoy this movie. Not that on my laptop in the dark with my earbuds in wasn’t pretty damn effective on its own, but the movie screen doesn’t glare. That’s my only complaint.

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death  picks up several decades after the events of the Daniel Radcliffe-led first movie, during World War II. Several London schoolchildren are being evacuated to an isolated home where they’ll be cared for by a Headmistress Hogg (Helen McCrory, “Penny Dreadful”) and Deputy Headmistress Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox, “The Musketeers”). Anyone who’s ever read Lord of the Flies knows this was a common enough practice during that time, and is the perfect setup for getting very young children away from their parents for horrific gain. The problem with the plan this time around is where they’ve found to set up the children until it’s safe to return to London: Eel Marsh house, the sight of the grisly doings from the first Woman in Black film.

No one having any idea of the house’s history or what went down there, it seems like a perfectly safe place, albeit a little moldy and rickety.

Eve forms an immediate bond with Edward, one of the children whose parents were just killed the night before in an air raid by the Germans. Edward hasn’t spoken since the incident and has taken to writing down his every communication, of which there are very few. Unfortunately, the other entity residing in Eel Marsh house with them has also taken a liking to Edward and has decided to recreate the death of her own child in the marsh surrounding the estate. She’s not entirely bad, though; she does take out a couple of the kids who were less than kind to Edward, so that’s alright then.

Eve suspects something sinister is going on and enlists the aid of a locally-stationed pilot, Harry (Jeremy Irvine, War Horse), whom she met on the train, to help her uncover the mystery.

But the Woman in Black has been waiting a very long time for this and she’s not going to be so quick to just let Edward go.

First, let’s discuss what I liked. The performances by Fox and McCrory were wonderful. I’ve never seen Fox before, but I’m familiar with McCrory and she’s often had a sort of regal way of carrying herself. That trait carries over to her portrayal of the battleaxe of a headmistress and helps to define her character quite well. Fox plays the pretty teacher with the heart of gold and a dark secret in her past just as well, and gives the movie a well-defined, strong lead character to focus on. While Mrs. Hogg is running the show, it never feels as if she’s walking all over Ms. Parkins.

Another plus was the atmosphere. That’s no surprise, though. All the makers (screenplay by Jon Croker–Desert Dancer–and directed by Tom Harper–”Peaky Blinders”) had to do was pay close attention to the first movie, which was packed with the stuff.

I quite liked the story, and even though there was very very little woman in black to be seen, her presence was felt strongly throughout. I chalk a lot of that up to the dreary, foreboding atmosphere created by Harper, along with some beautifully dismal cinematography by George Steel, who has also worked with Harper on the Netflix series “Peaky Blinders”, which is another dark and dank setting, so he’s definitely the man for this job.

All around, this was a stunning and entertaining movie to SEE.

Watching it, however, that’s another story. Now on to some of the negatives.

First off, it’s not scary. At all at all. It’s got over half a dozen very intense jump scares, a few of which even caused me to jump and I’m usually pretty good at predicting those and letting them roll by without even a twitch. But this movie caught me off guard several times.

But that doesn’t make the movie scary. In fact, not one of those jump scares had anything at all to do with the plot, none of them served to advance it or inform it, they were just there. They came and went and were quickly forgotten in the grand scheme of the story being told. Unfortunately, they were also the only scary thing in sight here.

The threat of the Woman in Black this time around didn’t feel nearly as real or as terrible as it did in the first movie, even though she’s the main protagonist in both. Maybe that’s because other than her connection to Edward, which is usually shown through a hole in the ceiling above Edward’s bed on the first floor, which leads to the room upstairs where the Woman in Black took her life decades earlier, we don’t see her.

We get some tension between Edward and another kid who bullies him. We get some attitude between the two headmistresses toward each other. We even get some nightmares from Ms. Fox, who keeps reliving a terrible incident from her past. But we just don’t get a whole lot of the title character. A few hints and suggestions here and there. I mean, we’re watching the movie, we know the title, so we assume that shadow that floated past in the background is her and we’re supposed to say, “Oooooo, scary, there she is!” But we don’t. We don’t because, yes, we already know she’s in the house, we don’t need to be reminded of that. What we need is advancement of the plot. To be shown a mysterious shadow in the background with nothing to come from it only works once. After that, if the Woman in Black is going to BE there in the scene, she’d better be doing something to change the status quo every time.

That being said, I did enjoy The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death a lot, despite the total lack of scares.

I was cautious at first, wondering how they could possibly follow up the original movie, considering the sense of utter hopelessness at the end of that one, but seeing what they did with the story, with the idea, has me totally on board for a whole series of these movies. I would gladly sit through half a dozen more stories set at Eel Marsh house throughout different points in history. Bring em on.

–C. Dennis Moore

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