‘How on Earth are you going to stay sane out here?’
The Woman in Black (James Watkins ) owed a lot to the style, scares and scriptwriting of Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting (1963) with its depiction of a supernatural story that plays on profound fears for the characters, resulting in an odd entry into the pantheon of modern horror – a film that is creepy, jumpy, scary and occasionally nasty, but without any imagery that results in an age restriction that often markets the film as horror. The Woman in Black: Angel of Death is the sequel to this solid, scary 12A horror film but this one comes with a higher rating (15). Using the same basic premise it jumps forward in time and introduces a new group of (living) characters whilst retaining the legend – the monster – of its forebear.
In 1941 the country is facing night-time bombings from Luftwaffe planes, aiming their lethal blitzkrieg attacks on London but also deploying unused bombs on any location deemed worthy of attack as they return to base. Many of the civilians hide in underground subway stations as the explosions wreak their wrath. Many have died or been injured and there is a consensus that in order to save the children from danger, they should be moved away from the capital and out to the countryside. They also need to receive an education as well as shelter from the frightening life in the city. Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) is a teacher who is particularly keen to help recently orphaned Edward Lee (Oaklee Pendergast) escape the atrocities, along with a group of other evacuee children. Their destination is an old house located near a military base. Jean meets airman Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), who is based at the nearby aircraft facility, as she travels with her charges to Eel Marsh House, perched on an isolated, misty island. The house is an old, virtually derelict mansion where web strewn rooms, surrounded by cracked walls and broken floors, are filled with many artefacts, from statues and paintings to children’s toys, warped and decayed from time and neglect. But at least it is a refuge for the new residents. Or is it? Strange figures are observed by the residents. The children start behaving oddly. Jean starts experiencing frightening visions, including writing scrawled on the walls declaring ‘You let him go,’ a phrase that clearly has deep emotional resonance for her. Eel Marsh House clearly has a past that is affecting the present in increasingly distressing and horrific ways.
Woman in Black: Angel of Death distances itself from the original by offering a new premise set many years after the original story and yet also offers us familiarity by placing events in the same location and with the same fearsome ghost. Fears about children (whether they are undead or possessed) are once again central to the story – with many more young lives at risk, not only from the horror of the setting but also the war background. The sequel also adds a friendship, verging on romance, sub-plot which introduces back-stories for Jean Hogg and Harry Burnstow and attempts to address other tragic and horrific stories amidst the supernatural ones. However supernatural horror is what Woman in Black: Angel of Death aims to use to elicit the scares and jumps and, for the most part, it achieve this. Faces suddenly appearing in the window, a corpse-like hand that reaches through a gap in the ceiling, spiritual high-pitched screams and groups of zombie children from the previous century wandering through the gardens combine with the creepy rocking chairs and cots, broken clockwork toys that move, to provide jumps and scares at every opportunity.
While the premise is far less plausible than the original film, Woman in Black: Angel of Death is nevertheless a reasonable horror; like part one, but with ‘extra scares’.