The Woman In Black surprised nearly everyone when it became the most successful horror movie ever at the British box office. Due to the fact it was such a huge hit, it’s not surprising a sequel has emerged, complete with a story by Susan Hill who wrote the original Woman In Black novel.
Things have moved on though, as Angel Of Death is set 40 years after the original during the Second World War, when a group of evacuees and their teachers, Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) and Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), are sent to the countryside and move into the dilapidated Eel Marsh House – the setting of the first tale. Unsurprisingly this awakens the evil, ghostly presence that resides there, which seems particularly interested in young Edward (Oaklee Pednergast), who is traumatised and mute following the death of his parents in the Blitz.
It soon becomes a case of survival, with only pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine) around to help the children and teachers fight a force that will only be happy when they are all dead.
The first film succeeded because it had a strong narrative, a great central character and a director who really knew how to create a sustained sense of menace and eeriness. It made you jump not just by making things leap out of the shadows, but also with very simple noises and creaks, simply because you were constantly on the edge of your seat.
Angel Of Death on the other hand is a far clunkier affair from beginning to end. The story is a bit of a rehash with few strong threads to pull it together, and that’s despite the fact it does make a fair amount of effort to give people backstories and expand the ghostly legend, but tends to deliver it in an awkward, overly expositionary way. As a result the characters are bland and most problematically, the script is incredibly clunky, full of underwritten ideas, contrivance and wobbly dialogue. Director Tom Harper does manage to create a series of decent make-you-jump moments, but what’s in between is far duller than it ought to be.
It’s not dreadful, and indeed if this had been a throwaway, straight-to-DVD chiller it would have seemed okay, but as a sequel to a really good movie, it’s impossible not to see how it constantly comes up short. It’s obvious that the film is also intrigued by the World War 2 setting and the themes it can draw out of that. It does offer quite a few interesting hints in this regard, but never gets all that far with them beyond suggesting how the horrors of the War merge here with the supernatural.
More successful though are the visuals. Although there are a few sections where it’s a bit too dark and gloomy for its own good and it’s actually difficult to see what’s going on, overall it certainly has a great visual style and there are some excellent shots. Phoebe Fox is also extremely good, but she doesn’t really have enough to work with. It certainly helps as well that while the first 70 minutes are a little underwhelming, the ending ratchets things up several notches and the tension that’s been sorely lacking (instead it’s a bit depressing) suddenly arrives and gets your heart going. It’s not enough to completely save the movie, but it’s certainly a lot better and a lot creepier than what’s gone before, complete with a couple of genuinely scary moments.
Overall Verdict: Not a patch on its predecessor, Angel Of Death has its moments, but for most of the running time it’s a bit clunky, clichéd and, to be honest, a tiny bit tedious, before pulling out all the stops for a very good final act.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac