I’m “biast” (con): wasn’t enamored of the first film
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
We know why the 2012 Woman in Black watered down the scares from the long-running West End stage play it was adapted from: Because it was starring Daniel Radcliffe (even though he was too young for the role), and it couldn’t afford to exclude the Harry Potter crowd from its potential audience. But what’s the sequel’s excuse? Not adapted from anything — certainly not a play that remains, almost 20 years later, one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen anywhere — it doesn’t feature any stars of global kiddie-flavored blockbusters. This may be slightly more intense that the first film, as reflected in a rating that is slightly more restrictive, in the U.K., than the first film’s, though the sequel remains solidly PG-13 in the U.S. But that intensity is strictly of the “stuff jumping out to startle you” sort that lacks all psychological complexity and, hence, any power to genuinely scare you.
Oh, The Woman in Black 2 thinks it’s hitting notes of subconscious dread, but it’s just swinging a sledgehammer of tropes and hoping one of them sticks with us. (Spoiler: They don’t.) It’s 40 years after the events that had Radcliffe’s young lawyer visiting a spooky old house on a spooky swampy causeway somewhere in remotest seaside England. Now, it’s 1941 and a band of children has been evacuated from the London blitz, accompanied by Mrs. Hogg (Helen McCrory: Skyfall, Hugo), the Mean One, and Miss Perkins (Phoebe Fox), the Kind One. Why the kids would be put up in an abandoned house with such a terrible history remains a mystery, but there they are, including poor sweet cute little Edward (Oaklee Pendergast: The Impossible), who was orphaned by the bombing only the night before the gang got on a train to escape the city. Now, in his shock and sorrow, the kid won’t even speak, which makes him a target for bullying older kids… as well as for the spectral Woman in Black who dwells in the house. There’s a tragedy with a child in her past, too…
Angel of Death is all haunted-house atmosphere: screams in the fog, rocking chairs that rock on their own, slithering somethings glimpsed out of the corner of your eye. Director Tom Harper manages it well enough, but it goes nowhere and means nothing. Despite the trappings of wartime — including a friendship struck up by Miss Perkins and local RAF flyboy Harry (Jeremy Irvine: The Railway Man, Great Expectations) — this could be taking place today, or at any almost time. There is no emotional weight to anything we are asked to accept on that level, no matter how earnestly screenwriter Jon Croker tries: matters of motherhood and grief and trauma that interconnect Miss Perkins and the Woman in Black and even Harry completely fail to make us care. This flick suffers badly in comparison to the similarly themed The Babadook, the horror of which arises organically from its characters’ psychoses. Here, characters who feel random are caught in an emotional snare of someone else’s making — that would be the Woman in Black — and it’s one that we are not invited to sympathize with. By the time the film is forcing Mrs. Hogg to explain for our benefit that “our own worst enemy is ourselves,” Angel of Death has already drifted so far from anything we might identify with that you can only snort with derision.