Horror movie sequels have always been a la mode, ever since people discovered that they could easily see Jason Voorhees, Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster come back for more and more. However, some stories should stay as one-hit wonders — although this has been willfully ignored in this sequel to the Daniel Radcliffe-starring hit The Woman in Black, given the further sub-title of The Angel of Death.
While its predecessor was a Gothic delight, this limp sequel offers little of the first film’s inventive love letter to old Hammer horror. In 1941, a group of British schoolchildren evacuees are dispatched from bomb-torn London with their teachers, to the abandoned Eel Marsh House, the haunted residence of the first film. In the significant time jump, the village of Crythin Gifford has become a wasteland, with most of the villagers gone, and soon the eponymous ghostly woman begins to stalk the children, in particular newly-orphaned Edward.
The plot itself is too much of a weak attempt at blending World War II with horror, with the most suspenseful moments coming from lazy ‘seat-jumping’ moments that temporarily scare, but do not add to a real sense of horror. The performances themselves are the redeeming factor of the entire event — relative newcomer Phoebe Fox more than ably takes charge as young teacher Eve, who battles with her own dark past to save the lives of her charges, while reliable support comes in the form of Helen McCrory’s strict Jean, Eve’s fellow teacher, and in Jeremy Irvine’s Harry, an RAF pilot hunk whom Eve forms a bond with. Even the central role of Edward earns some serious kudos here, thanks to the turn of young Oaklee Pendergast as the beleaguered boy the Woman in Black latches onto.
Sadly, however, these performances are not enough to save a film with a plotline that is barely strong enough to make it to the finish line, and a villain that, while terrifying in the odd jump-cut moments, never really establishes herself as a true monster. Eve’s own B-plots, whether it’s her nightmares or her romance with Harry, are never truly fleshed out enough for the audience to care, while characters such as Jean receive minimal character development.
The Woman in Black: The Angel of Death, while visually stunning and shot with some beautiful scenery, never rises to being more than a schlocky cash-in on the first film’s surprise success. The makers could consider looking at 2011’s The Awakening as for an example of how to write a spooky, scary, Gothic, female-led ghost horror film. Instead, this film isn’t set to scare audiences and become a cult classic — rather it’s more likely to be considered a bad dream that everyone involved wishes that they could wake up from.