WARNING: Spoilers lie in wait!
A herd of school kiddies are packed off to the countryside The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe style to take refuge in none other than the house of the Woman in Black. And it’s not long before the deadly dame has her eyes set on recently orphaned Edward while terrorising his overly protective teacher, Miss Parkins with a secret from her past. Whilst trying to solve the mystery of their ghostly hostess, the young Miss strikes up a romance with soldier Harry, who has some demons of his own.
From the beginning this movie had a lot going against it. First of all, it’s a sequel, and horror sequels in particular have a reputation for blowing major ass. Secondly, it’s painfully evident from the initial release of the official film synopsis that it underwent substantial rewrites. Never a good sign. And thirdly, hitting theatres subsequent to the disappointing Quiet Ones (2014) did Hammer Film Productions no favours.
The real trouble with Angel of Death is that it takes the scare out of The Woman in Black by giving her a heart. Here we have the beautiful young Miss Parkins who regrets giving up her first-born child. Then we have lonely little Edward who lost both of his parents to the war. And all the spooky antics of the mysterious Woman in Black ever really do is bring these two souls together as mother and son. That’s not scary. That’s the gothic version of frickin’ Nanny McPhee (2005).
As a result of this, the Woman’s focus on the unnecessary killing of schoolgirl Joyce is cruel and makes no sense. The only other child to die met his demise for bullying Edward. Soldier Harry’s death at least has logic to it, as he achieves some form of spiritual atonement by meeting the same fate as his fallen comrades.
That said, the acting talent is there. Helen McCrory, who played the frightening Dr. Rachel Price in Messiah 4: The Harrowing (2005), is effortless as Miss Parkins’ superior and steals the lion’s share of their scenes together. Rather wisely, the makers of Angel of Death chose to keep a lot of the elements that made the original movie work so well, including the atmosphere and the tension. They just made the mistake of not building upon them. Still I have to commend their restraint from going balls to wall and turning the sequel into the British version of Darkness Falls (2003).
Angel of Death is a prime example of how delivering more of the same is just not enough. And while it never had a chance of matching the acclaim or the box office of its predecessor, it’s still not half as bad as it could have been.
Dir: Tom Harper
Scr: Jon Croker
Starring: Eve Perkins, Jeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory
Prd: Tobin Armbrust, Ben Holden, Richard Jackson, Simon Oates
DOP: George Steel
Music: Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts, Marcus Trumpp
Country: UK, USA, Canada
Run time: 98 mins
The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death is out now on Blu-ray and DVD, courtesy of Entertainment One
Check out the clip before talking about the writing of the films script.