Effective jump scares are good fun every now and then, but not in a follow-up to a film that made such a lasting impression because of its exceptionally chilling environment. The Woman in Black 2 Angel of Death is brimming with great imagery courtesy of the rich location, but the Eel Marsh House alone isn’t enough to make this a worthy sequel to the 2012 original. The Woman in Black mythology is in there, but this time around it takes a back seat to an endless string of cheap and desperate scares.
The Woman in Black 2 Angel of Death takes place 40 years after the original film, during The Blitz of World War II. With bombs raining down on London, Eve (Phoebe Fox) and Jean (Helen McCrory) must take a group of orphaned children out of the city and into the countryside to safety. Upon arriving in Crythin Gifford, they come to learn that the Board of Education is putting them up at the old Eel Marsh House. Eve quickly comes to realize that something isn’t quite right with the place, but with nowhere else to go, she’s got no choice, but to try to protect the children herself.
The WWII component is pretty brilliant. How many times have you seen a horror movie with characters willingly living in dangerous and creepy conditions? In Woman in Black 2, however, they truly have to. The wartime setting also adds loads of texture to the characters and justifies quite a few of their decisions. For example, Eve and Jean’s diverging ways of coping with the constant threat says a lot about their past, their relationship with one another and it also speaks to how they’re handling themselves in this situation. And the same goes for Eve’s love interest as well. Harry’s (Jeremy Irvine) an RAF pilot stationed nearby who would do anything to help Eve, but he’s limited as a result of a recent tragedy. Screenwriter Jon Croker does a fine job highlighting those details and weaving them into the scares and action, but there’s just so far that’ll get you when The Woman in Black herself isn’t developed clearly enough.
If you know the mythology well, you’ll probably be able to put the pieces together, but for newcomers or moviegoers who haven’t seen the first film since its February 2012 release, good luck digesting the rapid-fire telling of Jennet Humfrye’s story and then figuring out how it connects to what’s happening to Eve. All the details are actually there, but they’re not conveyed in a well-ordered, engaging manner, which is especially unfortunate because that’s the only thing that makes The Woman in Black 2 Angel of Death a unique film. Without it, all that’s left are the pretty visuals and overabundance of jump scares. I still get a good thrill out of jump scares that catch me off guard and The Woman in Black 2 has quite a few of them, but it’s a big problem that those are the only types of scares that the film’s got.
Phoebe Fox and the visuals are what keep The Woman in Black 2 semi-afloat. It’s a very pretty film with select vibrant elements popping beautifully amidst the muted color palette. Cinematographer George Steel also makes great use of every single layer of his frames, something that works especially well in the scenes set in the woods and in the children’s dormitory as well. The whole creepy toy shtick is less successful the second time around and the old Eel Marsh House isn’t as chilling as when Daniel Radcliffe first walked us through it either, but Fox still makes for a strong, likable lead to take us through the new narrative. Again, the details of Eve’s situation and The Woman in Black’s agenda don’t align as well as they should have, but Fox has a winning charisma that does result in an adequate connection to her character.
This might be an unusual detail to discuss because it pertains to such a minor character, but one of the most successful elements of the film is the tension between Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), the boy Eve is determined to protect, and Tom (Jude Wright), the class bully. Again, it’s a very small role, but Wright turns Tom into such a lively character that he winds up being one of the most memorable components of the whole film. Pendergast is just going what his role called for, but when you’ve been watching a super sad-faced Edward walk around moping for an hour and then all of a sudden a kid with some serious sass and a face full of expression comes into play, you’re going to gravitate towards him.
The Woman in Black 2 Angel of Death is a passable surface-level ghost story that’s well paced enough to offer up a decent thrill, but if you’re looking for more, it’s not really there. The film does attempt to enrich and expand upon the Woman in Black legend by way of the new characters and the personal woes that plague them even prior to arriving at the Eel Marsh House, but the connections aren’t executed well enough for the concept to hit home and without that, The Woman in Black 2 is just any old haunted house film.