The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is the sequel to the 2012 film that pitted Daniel Radcliffe against a ghastly ghoul. While the original was a fairly standard horror outing, Radcliffe was able to carry most of the film single-handedly to make for an entertaining watch. Director Tom Harper (War Book) does his best to up the scare factor and add to the mythology in its successor, but it becomes very clear that the original’s star was a critical element in the film’s success.
Set forty years after the events of the first film, a group of orphans are evacuated from London during the Second World War to the eerie Eel Marsh House. Led by schoolteacher, Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), and the cynical headmistress, Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory), the group find that not all is as it seems in the manor, as they attempt to shrug off disturbing and mysterious occurrences. On their way there, Eve meets fighter pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), who is stationed at a nearby base and the two soon find themselves in a flirtatious back and forth. As the children begin to act strangely, it becomes obvious that something foul is at play and Eve begins to investigate the house’s past, only to discover that she has more in common with the previous occupant than she could have imagined.
Fox (War Book) does well as she floats from set piece to set piece, offering differing levels of frightened reaction, but she does brings a warmth to her character that lends credibility to her relationships with the children. McCrory (Penny Dreadful) plays her skeptical headmistress with tenacity, although she’s negated to the sidelines for most of the film and is severely underused. Irvine (War Horse) also doesn’t get to do much apart from provide some young love angst but does get to add some interesting war elements towards the end of the film. Oaklee Pendergast (The Impossible) as the newly orphaned Edward is also well played, yet is unsurprisingly only needed to stare ominously for most of the film.
While sometimes achieving an unsettling atmosphere with the foggy wetlands, the film is never outright scary and relies heavily on cheap jump scares. These mainly involve the Woman in Black’s CGI face suddenly appearing here and there, and most of the time it is much more laughable than obviously intended. Still, the film deserves some credit for placing the lives of these children in danger and not shying away from actually following through.
Harper tries hard to establish a new franchise, but the character of the Woman in Black is just too generic to register as a new horror icon, and spends most of her time drifting through the background in shadow forms. Not much separates her from her ghostly counterparts from recent films like Insidious, Sinister and Dead Silence, and paired with her little screen time throughout most of this film, it’s ensured that any impact she may have had from the original is lost. This will most likely not halt a third instalment from occurring.