The prospect of sitting through The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death didn’t exactly fill me with joy. Yes, as a critic you should try your darndest to keep an open mind, but the muted boredom of the below par, Daniel Radcliffe-y mush that was the original Woman in Black still mildly annoys me to this day. If it did nothing else, Angel of Death has led me to somewhat reconsider my opinions of its predecessor – scareless dull-isms suddenly don’t seem so bad when held up against an all-out onslaught of woeful, woeful filmmaking. And boy is Angel of Death woeful.
Bailing on Edwardian England for the much more miller-timey World War II brand, Angel of Death tracks a small group of children displaced by the Blitz, led by a stern matriarch (Helen McCrory) and her wishy-washy second in command (Phoebe Fox) to the fog coated British countryside. Surprise, surprise, they end up kipping in the very same – now heinously dilapidated – manor in which mutton-chopped Daniel Radcliffe had such an awful time around 40 chronological years ago, with many of the same results.
First and foremost, Angel of Death seems to have nearly no grasp on the concept of subtlety. The script, visuals and acting possess about as much restraint as a drunk soccer Dad at his kid’s big game. Its characters’ various traumas are spelt out again and again and again (“The whole movie’s about PTSD, okay?! Did you guys get that? Maybe I should explain it a few more times!”) to the point where I found myself semi-hysterically chuckling under my breath every time one of many quivering bottom lips revealed their traumatic past for the umpteenth time. The performances are universally rubbish as well, in spite of the usually stellar McCrory’s presence, but there’s only so much you can ask of actors with dialogue this wooden.
And then there’s the set design. Following in the footsteps of this year’s marquee horror video game release, The Evil Within, Angel of Death essentially shits every possible visual trope in the horror playbook out onto the screen. It’s as if the director took a look at every touch-stone of the genre – regardless of themes, stylism or location – and said “I’ll have a bit of everything… scratch that, I’ll just take everything.” It gets to the point of flat out ridicule, with “spooky” play rooms packed with the kind of “creepy” toys that are supposed to chill the handful of people that somehow found Annabelle scary segueing straight into a hospital dream sequence that looks like the work of a mentally handicapped David Lynch clone.
I could somewhat forgive the film’s God-awful writing and rubbish acting if it’d done the only thing that it was supposed to do. In short, The Woman in Black 2 falls – collapses even – at that first and necessary horror hurdle: Be scary. Formulated very much in the “Boo! Haunted House” sub-genre of horror movies that’ve become worryingly popular in our post Paranormal Activity/Conjuring/Insidious world, there’s about as much fear on offer here as in a barrel of overly friendly puppies. The jump scares are so telegraphed that they’re all but preceded by a furiously beeped morse code message reading “PREPARE TO BE SCARED NOW!” Except I wasn’t scared, and neither will anyone with more courage than that of a particularly timid housefly. Jump scares are the cheapest move a horror film can pull, but to infuse them with fear a movie has to actually earn the right to pull it.
Just take a look at some of the greatest jump scares in modern horror: The big reveal in The Descent, the madcap final 20 minutes of [Rec], the chest mauling sequence in Carpenter’s The Thing. Scary movies garner the right to pull these relatively cheap adrenaline bumps by creating an atmosphere and a situation where someone shouting “boo” is an ultimate realization of the audience’s terror. Without this atmosphere – or, in Angel of Death‘s case, any kind of audience investment on any level – you are not inducing terror, you’re just trying to make the audience think that something scary just happened.
In reality, the viewer has just had something very loud thrown at them, usually accompanied by a sharp cut away and someone dropping a string orchestra down a flight of stairs. None of this has anything to do with the plot of the film, none of this has anything to do with the characters in the film, in fact, none of this has anything to do with the film whatsoever – it’s cheap, it’s tacky, and oh-so lazy.
I’m aware that I’ve spent the best part of half this review discussing the merits (or usual lack thereof) of jump scares, but The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death leaves me with little choice – frankly, there’s very little else to discuss. It’s a nothing film, made in the begrudging aftermath of its predecessor’s surprising success at the box office. The script is rubbish, its performances phoned in, its direction aimless, its petty jump scares numerous – it’s the worst horror film I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve sat through my fair share of video game tie-ins and Brian De Palma remakes. It’s one to be passed hastily over and – judging by its minimal PR campaign and far from optimistic release date – cinema audiences will (hopefully) oblige, then maybe we can all get on with watching something worth our time and money.
Over-egged, underwritten and less scary than a barrel of inherently friendly puppies, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death fails in just about every way a horror film can.