Movie Review – The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014) is a sequel to 2012’s The Woman in Black and the first Hammer Film Productions sequel since 1974’s Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. Directed by Tom Harper and written by Jon Croker, the plot is adapted from a story written by Susan Hill, author of the original The Woman in Black novel. In it we follow Eve Parkins in WWII, played by Phoebe Fox, who as deputy headmistress is charged with escorting and caring for London orphans whose homes were destroyed during the Nazi blitz. With housing scarce and the attack of bombers ever-present, the government commandeers the abandoned Eel Marsh mansion as a makeshift orphanage, unknowing that the place is inhabited by a malevolent entity that targets children.

In my review of Hammer’s previous offering, 2014’s The Quiet Ones, I praised the detail of the period set designs while condemning its over-reliance on fake jump scares. With Angel of Death, Hammer moves further into both territories. The period setting of the film is beautiful, brought to life by crisp cinematography, nice costumes, and impressive set design. However, sometimes scenes are so dark and murky that making anything out, scary or mundane, was an unnecessary chore. The war is incorporated in interesting ways, especially in regard to the character of Harry Burnstow, played by Jeremy Irvine. Performances are generally strong, with Helen McCrory as Headmistress Jean Hogg being the notable example.

There are a few genuinely creepy moments in Angel of Death, but they’re diluted by a constant assault of irritating false scares. Remember the last time you were watching a beautiful scene and someone needlessly jumped out and scared the crap out of you? Remember how much fun that was for you? Me neither. Jump scares are fine in horror films when they are something we should be genuinely afraid of – after all, the thrill of being scared is partly why we watch them. But here we get a crow flying in front of a window, Parkins tripping over bells, people popping up quickly for no damn reason constantly, each time with the sound blaring to announce their arrival, as though we could miss it. It distracts us from the story. It’s annoying. It’s insulting. It ruins a tension-filled experience as the heart is sent racing for the dozenth time for no purpose at all pertaining to the plot. Towards the end we get a few jump scares used right, but by this point the viewer’s good will and patience has been worn too thin.

Please Hammer, don’t squander that good will. I love your sets and your attention to period piece horror. Your camerawork is beautiful and the stories have been promising. But lay off the damn fake jump scares; it’s beneath you. It makes the kind of movie that nongenre critics would be genuinely surprised by into exactly the sort of movie they lay hate upon the genre for, and in cases like this I can’t blame them.

Grade: C-