2012’s The Woman in Black, based on the classic novel by Susan Hill and starring Daniel Radcliffe in one of his first post-Harry Potter roles, was a surprise success when it came out. It played as a solid, old-fashioned supernatural shocker from the resurrected Hammer Films, which was also behind Let Me In, the excellent English-language remake of Let the Right One In. With nearly every horror film viewed as a potential franchise starter these days, it seemed inevitable that the movie’s sturdy box office returns would trigger studio interest in making a sequel — even if Radcliffe’s character would not be returning (spoiler: he dies in the first film).
So now we have The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, which begs the question: what has happened to the Hammer renaissance? The historic horror studio seemed to have found new life with Let Me In, the first Woman in Black and Wake Wood (we’ll ignore the cheap-looking The Resident), but has stumbled twice in a row with 2014’s The Quiet Ones and now this largely pointless and deadly dull affair, which employs so many overused and clichéd horror devices that you start to get the feeling the filmmakers simply never cared about the material at all.
The screenplay by Jon Croker follows two schoolteachers who evacuate a small group of children out of London during World War II to get away from the relentless German bombing. The women, Eve (Phoebe Fox) and Jean (Helen McCrory) spirit them to Eel Marsh House, which has stood abandoned since the events of the first film decades earlier. As Eve strikes up a relationship with a local — and handsome — pilot (Jeremy Irvine), the presence of the children activates the title entity, who is still seeking revenge for her drowned child as explained in the first film.
With the story of the Woman in Black already established the first time around and nothing done in particular to expand upon it, the sequel quickly becomes an exercise in predictable, tedious plotting as we and the characters wait around for the ghost to send another child to his or her death. Eve, whose sole character trait is that she keeps smiling as a way to “cope,” learns everything we found out in the previous movie but still can’t convince schoolmaster Jean that perhaps Eel Marsh House is not the most hospitable place to set up a makeshift boarding school.
Director Tom Harper helms the film as if he’s either never seen a horror picture before or just said “fuck it” and harvested every possible trope he could find from other genre outings to use here. The attempts to frighten are lazy across the board, whether it’s a face emerging from darkness or another odious and annoying fake “jump scare,” and most of the story involves people either running around or in and out of the house. Everything about the decayed mansion screams “Don’t come in here” — everything you can see, that is. Even by horror standards, The Woman in Black 2 is one of the murkiest, darkest pictures I’ve watched in years — again, a move that smacks of laziness. Let’s just turn out the lights instead of trying to do something atmospheric with them.
The World War II setting is pretty much a red herring and the cast bland: you’ll forget Fox and Irvine’s faces the minute the movie ends. But neither actor is given much of a character to work with either. The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death feels rote and undernourished, a cash grab of the most cynical kind that doesn’t have the imagination available to add onto a story that was already pretty much complete in itself. There’s a reason why this movie is coming out in the very first days of January, and it’s not because it’s worthy counterprogramming to Selma or American Sniper. It’s because, like the Woman in Black herself, it’s already dead. The corpse just needs to be buried.
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is out in theaters Friday (January 2).