The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (dir. Tom Harper)

Posted: January 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

“The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death” (useless and unnecessary subtitle) fails to create any sense of atmosphere, create any dread, or capitalize on the admittedly beautiful setting it decides to take place in.  It is rare one sees a horror film with such little horror in it. It’s not just horror the film is lacking, but also drama.  This is the kind of film one sits quietly during and waits patiently for it to end, much as you would in a doctor’s waiting room.  This film is a dull, nonsensical bore.

Having not seen the first film, perhaps I was deprived of key knowledge needed to understand the mythology of the Woman in Black as a character.  It appears she is hell-bent on hypnotizing kids into killing themselves.  This would seem to make her a very powerful ghost, what with being able to take over peoples’ minds and control their actions and all.  If she is this powerful, then why, one wonders, does she waste so much time making doors open, close, and lock for no good reason?  Does she have a sense of humor and enjoy playing practical jokes before making people strangle themselves with yarn (which seems a rather ineffective strangling instrument, especially when one considers what a death trap an old, decrepit mansion with holes in the floors would be?  Why write ominous messages on walls and gently touch people with your gnarled, purple hand, only to do nothing?  Why make an appearance as yourself hanging from a noose right behind someone when they aren’t going to see you?  Granted, the audience DOES see you, but if the Woman in Black is aware he is a character in a film then that is an even cooler power, and such meta-ness is far too clever for this film.  The powers and behavior of this child-killing ghost make not a lick of sense, unless one considers that her behaviors are built not as the realistic actions of a character, but rather as excuses for lame and predictable jump scares.  If the pun is the lowest form of humor, the jump scare is the lowest form of horror.

The plot involves a woman named Eve (Phoebe Fox), who is haunted by memories of her child being taken away shortly after it was born because, she tells us, she had the kid too young and was unwed.  Perhaps if the character weren’t played as if she was the most innocent and naïve girl one can imagine living during bombings in WWII, I’d buy that she was an unwed teen mother in the 1940s.  Despite her apparently immoral sexual behavior, she is allowed to be the caretaker of some children, who are being shepherded out of the dangerous and Nazi-targeted London and taken to the aforementioned old and decrepit mansion.  Why are the kids’ parents not also allowed to go with them out of the city?  Why is this old mansion deemed safer when a character clearly states that German bombers will drop leftover bombs on the countryside after raids on the city, showing that they’re only marginally safer at their destination?  The film later shows us *MILD SPOILER* that a fake airfield was set up close to the mansion to draw German bombers away from REAL airfields with REAL British airplanes, so in fact the children are perhaps just as proximal to an enemy target now as they were in London proper.

That airfield is being manned by Harry (Jeremy Irvine), who the film supplies to us solely to be a chaste love interest to our main character, who otherwise would have nothing to do but watch children die around her and be spooked by rocking chairs.  Why a ghost would rock a rocking chair when she has shown the capacity to induce suicide in children is beyond me.  A dead child is far more traumatic than a chair rocking for no reason, but whatever.  Perhaps the title should be “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death and Rocking Chairs”?

Of course, Eve has a favorite among the 7 or 8 kids: Edward (Oaklee Pendergast).  He has gone mute, for some reason, and has taken to drawing pictures ad accepting dolls from the Woman in Black.  Also, the film implies that he may be Eve’s son, but never directly addresses whether this is the case or not.  For some reason, the Woman in Black decides to try and win this kid’s favor before killing him, something she does not try with any of the other children.  This seems to be as some sort of punishment to Eve, but why the Woman in Black even wants to punish Eve is a bit murky.  I’m told by my girlfriend, who saw the first film but fell asleep during this one, that The Woman in Black’s son was taken away from her, only to drown.  You’d think the ghost would empathize with Eve rather than punish her, considering Eve did not want to relinquish custody of her son, and indeed we’re told she looked for him to no avail, but I guess with all the doors she has to open and close our villain couldn’t be bothered to rationalize her motives.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss how profoundly dumb the ending of this film is, so forgive more *MASSIVE SPOILERS* at this juncture.  Early in the film, Edward writes on a scrap of paper to Eve that his mom told him that good thoughts will keep his nightmares at bay.  At the end, Edward is being hypnotized by the Woman in Black to drown himself in the same marsh her son had drowned in.  At this point, Eve is attempting to wade toward him to stop this suicide by ghost and tells Edward to think good thoughts.  This seems to be all Edward needed, a reminder to think of kitty cats and puppy dogs and not about drowning himself to death, and suddenly he snaps out of it.  Also, this prompts a number of ghost children at the bottom of the marsh to try to pull Edward and Eve to the bottom.  If suicide doesn’t work, the Woman in Black will resort to out and out murder, which raises the question as to why she bothers with the rocking chairs and hypnotism when she could just have her previous victims stab the hell out of these people with glass shards from around the old house and make this a five minute short film.  Luckily, Harry arrives just in the nick of time to pull them up, all before the ghost children pull Him down and kill him, after which Edward tells us that the Woman in Black is gone.  Wait, what?  Why did killing Harry make the Woman in Black disappear?  Never mind, the writers wrote themselves into a corner and needed to end the film at the 88 page mark of their script.  At least, end it until a last minute “scare” of the Woman in Black in London breaking picture frame.  How come she can leave the mansion and the area immediately surrounding it?  If she can leave, why isn’t she trying to kill kids all over the world?  The Woman in Black is no Freddy Krueger, and even he was limited to his home town of Springwood.

So yes, the screenplay is downright awful, the mythology makes no sense, the characters are dumb, and the film wastes a perfectly good set by making it not nearly as scary as it could be.  Hell, of the entire mansion, which looks huge, we only see maybe 5 rooms of it, tops.  Even by PG-13 horror movie standards this is bad, and I almost never enjoy PG-13 horror movies anyway. I would say this is better than “The Grudge” but worse than “The Ring” or “Insidious”, and I disliked or outright hated all of those films.

It is theoretically possibly to make a scary film with a PG-13 rating.  It’s not just blood and gore that the MPAA won’t let in a PG-13 horror film, as they even have rules that the film’s MUSIC can’t be too scary.  When you have limits on your soundtrack, you’re essentially trying to make a good horror film with both hands tied behind your back.  So all you’re left with are jump scares (only need a few seconds of music there) and films that tend to make teenage girls jump and give them an excuse to cuddle up to their boyfriends, assuring they have a fun time at the movies, but leaving general audiences with the feeling of drinking watered-down Yoohoo, which most assuredly tastes like diarrhea.  Drinking diarrhea is preferable to watching “The Grudge”, but only slightly less preferable to watching “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death” more than once. D.

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