2012’s The Woman In Black was a perfectly acceptable little slice of gothic horror. It wasn’t anything particularly special, but it was well crafted by director James Watkins, based on a popular novella by Susan Hill, and starred Daniel Radcliffe while he was still scraping that Harry Potter fame from his boots. So people went in surprisingly large numbers for a variety of reasons. The film was also produced by the recently revived Hammer Horror Studios (descendants of the company that once made Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing stars) and that legendary movie factory once became big by running their popular horror franchises deep into the ground. So, it was inevitable that the gang would do it again. This time they’ve managed to suck all of the joy and appeal out of their latest hit with only a single sequel. That’s record time at the very least. Not bad guys, not bad at all.
The best decision anyone involved in The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death made was moving the story to another era. Gone are the Victorian trappings that the previous flick leaned on. In their place is a WWII setting. London is getting pummeled with bombs from that big jerk Hitler and a collection of orphans have been forced to leave the city to find a new home. Led by the crabby Mrs. Hogg (Helen McCrory) and the cutie/sweetie Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), the collection of kiddies soon find themselves in a rotted out gothic mansion that will instantly feel familiar to anyone who watched the last movie. Yep, the orphans are going to fall victim to the woman in black. Kids in peril! Adults who won’t believe their wild stories! You know the drill. Eventually that ghost becomes such a threat that Eve and even the bull-headed Mrs. Hogg are forced to concede that something’s up. Thankfully that Eve lady is so gosh-darn pretty that she caught the attention of a dashing RAF pilot (Jeremy Irvine) stationed nearby. In between the swooning of those two lovebirds, he agrees to fight off this ghost. Not sure how that’s possible, but hey! That’s the movie that we’re in! An orphans-in-danger, WWII impossible love, and a ghost from a popular novel/play/film causing trouble. Yep…that old chestnut.
It was wise for director Tom Harper and writer Jon Croker to move the setting and slightly shift genres for this sequel. It helps the movie from feeling redundant, even if it never quite manages to cover up the fact that the filmmakers had nowhere to go with this story. Aside from the fact that the titular Woman In Black didn’t disappear at the end of the first movie, that tale was wrapped up in a nice little bow with nothing left to explore. All this sequel really shares with its predecessor is a title and a ghost. In fact, it often feels like the movie was initially conceived as a completely unrelated haunted orphanage tale that was then jammed into the ill-fitting round hole of the Woman In Black franchise. There’s really nothing connecting the movies aside from superficial elements and while that was a clever gambit on the filmmakers’ part to try and juice up a commercial product, they sadly never succeeded in justifying this sequel’s existence.
That being said, it’s not a horror movie completely devoid pleasure (like say that gag-inducing Ouija movie that audiences got to suffer through just in time for Halloween this year). The Hammer production values are high and Harper was able to use those to create a deeply creepy environment and a handful of decent effects. Likewise, Fox and McCrory are far more talented actresses than the usual crop of horror movie fodder, so they actually lend credibility to a few ridiculous scenes. Unfortunately, those few fleeting atmospherics and two above average performances are the only positive elements of the otherwise drearily dull movie. The love story is gag-inducingly embarrassing in its manipulative cheese, while Harper’s approach to horror is sadly limited to “quiet-quiet-LOUD” jump scares that get old fast and are far too overdone these days thanks to Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring.
Sadly, horror movie fans desperately clinging to the hope that this sequel might recapture some of the pleasures of The Woman In Black are only setting themselves up for disappointment. The last movie was no contemporary classic, but at least it had a strong script as a backbone and was executed by people who understand how to use horror grammar. The Woman In Black 2 on the other hand, isn’t incompetent, but it is deeply pointless and uninspired. It’s clear watching this mess that the filmmakers were fighting against those two inevitable fates, but the fight was fruitless. There was no need for this sequel to exist and nowhere for it to go. It’s a feature length exercise in wheel-spinning that’s just as tedious to watch as that sounds. Ah well, at least it’s bad enough that the profits will be minimal and Hammer won’t continue to crank out endless entries in this franchise. Or at least, we can only hope that will be the case.