A horror sequel coming out in the notoriously shit month of January—what could go wrong?!
Get ready for the greatest shock of the year so far—The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is not a good movie. I know, I know. Take a moment. Sit down. The sequel to the similarly mediocre The Woman in Black—which was financially successful because A) it was cheap to make and B) it had Daniel Radcliffe in it—Angel of Death takes place some decades after its predecessor, during World War II, with the only character in common being the eponymous kid-murdering Woman.
In the first movie, Daniel Radcliffe played a widower and single father whose job takes him to the creepy Eel Marsh House, where he’s tasked with going through all the paperwork left by its recently deceased descendants for legal reasons. There’s a ghost lady. It compels children to commit suicide. There are a lot of jump scares.
In Angel of Death, in place of Potter is Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), who with resident ol’ battleaxe Jean Hogg (a criminally wasted Helen McCrory—wasted in the “not given enough to do sense,” not the “drunk all the time” sense, which actually would have been pretty fun) evacuates a group of young children to Eel Marsh House, where they’ll wait out the German bombs that pummel London every night. Among them is young Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), who hasn’t spoken a word since the recent death of his parents. The movie tries to imbue the kid, to whom the Woman instantly takes a liking, with the “adoracreepy” vibe typical of horror movie children, but it never quite manages it. Edward just stands around and stares at things. Rounding out the main cast is War Horse’s Jeremy Irvine as Harry Burnstow, a roguish pilot who gets his flirt on with Eve.
From the introduction of the main characters, the movie proceeds pretty much as it did in the first movie—the Woman in Black reveals herself to Eve, after which people start dying. Angel of Death suffers in how it grinds to a halt so its characters can discover the backstory of the Woman—necessary for people who haven’t seen the first film, but if you did, you’ll want to take a nap while an increasingly terrified Eve and Harry come to realize things you already know, with basically no change from how it was presented in the first movie.
As for the plot, it’s muddled and pointless. The conceit of the Woman in Black universe is that whenever someone sees the Woman, the Woman makes a kid kill themselves, which is pretty unnecessary causal link when you stop and give it two seconds of thought. People see the Woman. The Woman kills kids. You can keep trying to scare me with the “NO ONE SHOULD SEE HER EVER OMG DON’T LET YOURSELF SEE HER!” thing, but it feels like it was added in at the last minute to add some zest to what would have otherwise been—and still is—a by-the-books ghost story.
Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with a by-the-books ghost story. The Woman in Black had an amazing gothic atmosphere that was able to smooth over a lot of its flaws. Grand, swooping shots of the tide coming in and the only road to and from Eel Marsh House disappearing underwater—Radcliffe running around in a cravat and coattails—a fancily dressed Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer being elegant and Edwardian as fuck. Angel of Death doesn’t even have that going for it. It’s visually dull, which is the #1 thing to avoid when you’re making a Gothic-inspired horror movie. The entire film is just extended sequences of blandness punctuated by an endless sequence of jump scares.
There is one point on which Angel of Death beats the hell out of Woman in Black, and that is with its premise. When you have children go to Eel Marsh House to escape the Nazis, it makes sense that their caretakers would be reluctant to move them, whereas there was no reason at all Daniel Radcliffe should have conceivably stayed in that house. I know horror movies demand a certain level of suspension of disbelief on that front, but in Woman in Black it was so blatant as to be completely distracting. “I have to stay in Eel Marsh House—I’ll be fired from my job and won’t be able to take provide for my kid if I don’t!” Daniel. You and your kid could die. Getting fired from your job—which you’re not even doing, opting instead to go ghost-hunting, by the way—is near the bottom of the list of things you should be concerned about right now.
Alack, Angel of Death took that solid foundation and wasted it with unoriginal, lazy storytelling and a drab visual sensibility. Without Radcliffe’s name to draw audiences to this unnecessary sequel, one wonders whether The Woman in Black 3: Electric Boogaloo will ever see the light of day.