In 1941, during the Blitz, a group of eight children are evacuated to the country with their headmistress and Eve ( Phoebe Fox) a teacher who has experienced loss in her young life. Unfortunately, it is very much out of the frying pan, as they are evacuated to Eel Marsh House, the crumbling ancestral home of the vengeful ghost of the woman in black. One of the children is a recently orphaned young boy, Edward, who doesn’t talk, soon he and Eve begin to see and hear strange things within the mansion, the woman in black is coming for them.
The question here isn’t did I jump (I did), but how high? (VERY!)
Two years after audiences around the world were introduced to Hammer’s cinematic imagining of Susan Hill’s best-selling novel, not to mention the incredibly effective and successful stage play, the hate filled spectre returns to our screens. The first film made over $127 million worldwide, and is the UK’s most commercially successful horror film of all time. This is Hammer Films first sequel since Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell way back in 1973. The world, both real and cinematic has moved on since then, but if anything, franchises and recurring characters are more important to studios and production companies than ever before. Whether 007, Marvel heroes, or Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers, franchises are considered by companies to be safe (or relatively safe) bets.
Of Hammer’s two financially successful movies in their 21st century resurrection, Let Me In, the remake of Let the Right One In, would seem to have more limited possibilities in the running character stakes. The Woman in Black though? For anyone who’s been in a coma for the past couple of years, the first film was an intense ghost story set at the beginning of the century, where a most malevolent ghost terrorised Daniel Radcliffe’s character in the isolated old house. More than that (spoiler alert for those that haven’t watched Woman in Black), in a still unusual climax, the ghost of the evil old woman did cause the death of not just the lead character, but his young son too. Knowing this audiences approach this knowing that for this film to be anywhere near as effective as its predecessor, then all bets are off. After all if a character played by Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe can die, AND his child too, then what hope do actors we are nowhere near as familiar with?
A main difference, and it is an important one, between Angel of Death and Woman in Black is that this time the central character is a woman rather than a man. First time around Radcliffe’s character was a single parent struggling with his role after the recent death of his wife, this time we have a young woman tormented because as an unmarried mother she was forced to give up her baby. In both cases loss, and coming to terms with it, gives the central characters a link of sorts with the ghost, whose hatred at the loss of her own child drives her to terrorise her victims and enact her vengeance. In each film the woman in black forces the protagonist to reconsider their relationships with their offspring, unfortunately she is also out to enact her terrible revenge on them all.
One of the issues some, myself included had with the earlier film was with Daniel Radcliffe. Not to take away from his performance, which was perfectly functional for the role, but he felt somehow too young to play a father (in reality he wasn’t but he had only just wrapped the final Potter films, and there was a leap seeing him in a more mature roll, although let’s be honest, his name on the posters couldn’t have hurt the box office). This time our heroine, Eve is certainly young, but could certainly have had a child. Her performance certainly offers a melancholy that may well serve as a conduit of sorts to the Woman. It is notable that both of the main protagonists in the woman in black films have this still raw loss pervading their existences.
So, Angel of Death. Does it work? Yes. Mostly.
I would certainly say that the positives far outweigh the missteps here. Chief amongst the mistaken choices is a shot that appears early in the film showing a mid-blitz era London after a nights bombing. I audibly groaned at the mercifully short FX shot. My dog could draw a better bus. And I don’t have a dog! Thankfully on the technical side that’s an anomaly and the effects are suitably creepy, as is the cinematography. The ever prowling camera gives the suggestion of being the woman in blacks POV, but you never know, as a technique it can be disconcerting, as is the hole above one of the children’s beds. The blackness in the hole, which of course is a hole into the nursery above is often shown, and you can’t help but gaze into the blackness wondering if something may be staring back.
The performances are uniformly strong, if unspectacular. They furnish the story well, and the children, especially Oaklee Pendergast as the orphaned Edward who seems to be being groomed by the mansions dark spirit, seem to be children of the era. That said, the children are one of the problems with the film. In Woman in Black, Radcliffe was left alone in the house for much of the running time, whereas here we have (or at least start with!) eight children, and two teachers, and frequent visits from a locally based airman. It almost feels as though there are too many characters bouncing around the old house.
The sense of isolation of the individual is gone, but we are left in no doubt that the children certainly, are not safe here, in fact as the film progresses it’s clear they’re not safe anywhere. A choice that does work, is the almost derelict village from the first film, Crythin Gifford, which presumably after 40 years of hauntings by the woman, is an abandoned, run down and bloody creepy place. One of the stand out sequences happens when the children are finally evacuated from Eel Marsh House to a nearby airfield, only to find, in some of the most tense and imaginative sequences of the film, that they have not left the woman in black behind. Director Tom Harper, whilst not having previous experience with the genre, has evidently been brushing up as jump scares, false scares, and the building of sustained suspense in order to maximise audience reaction is all on show here.
Truth be told not all of them fire on all cylinders all of the time, but the hit rate is pretty high. More than once I groaned at a signposted scare only to leap out of the seat (I counted six times by the way, three at least had me exclaiming ‘f***!’ Under my breath). It’s not the scariest film I’ve seen or endured this year, that honour would go to The House at the End of Time, but this is certainly in my top 5 scary movies of 2014. One of the strangest, but also potentially most welcome, things about this film is how sparingly the woman in black is used. For long periods you don’t see her at all, or just as an unclear movement. By rationing 1940’s style the appearances of the woman, it makes those big appearances really shocking, ramping up the effectiveness of the scares, rather than making the oft made mistake of showing too much.
As a standalone ghost story Angel of Death certainly works, and like the original Dracula franchise, having the monster be the only link between films, essentially allowing us to grow to like new characters whose only real similarity is their encounter with the dark lady. Here’s hoping that should this franchise continue, that it does so in a similar manner to this film. The Christopher Lee Dracula films became more and more ridiculous as the series continued, leading Lee to leave the series in frustration and despair at what he was asked to do in the films. The Woman In Black has the potential to be a long running franchise for the new Hammer if they can just maintain the quality of their stories.
Can the characters escape the woman in black, or is their fate that of Daniel Radcliffe’s character from the first film? I’m not telling you. No spoilers! Go see the film, and hold on to that popcorn!
Lets be honest, as Mark pointed out after the wild success of Woman in Black, this was going to happen.
Instead of shoving a 2 on the title card and just sending a new lawyer to finish Kipps’ work on the estate of the deceased Alice Drablow. The time period has been moved forward 30 years into 1940s wartime Britain. Two teachers arrive on the island with a group of evacuees from the blitz to stay at the empty Eel Marsh House, now a crumbling ruin and stripped of all its furnishings.
The wonderful gothic set from the first film (which really was the star), has lost the creepy and dark sense of foreboding that the abandoned opulently furnished Eel Marsh House once had. Considering the tone of the scenes set in the house within the first movie, the scenes set away from Eel Marsh House in Angel Of Death are darker and scarier for me. Maybe it was due to the scenes that took place in Crythin Gifford being some of the few in the film where any isolation was felt.
Like the first film, Angel of Death does make a number of missteps, mainly it lacks the isolation that Eel Marsh House gave in the first film. There are too many people in the house throughout the film for anyone to be alone or stranded. Even when characters become isolated in parts of the house (like the basement), it was far too quick in returning them to the group, or even cut away to different locations before any real tension could build. It never really manages to reach the levels that the first construct so well.
One thing that did surprise me was the minimal and hidden use of the Woman In Black (who also seems to of aged…) Unlike in the first film, the majority of the appearances (or half appearances) are brief glimpses. This I preferred as like the theatrical production the minimal appearances give a feeling of the evacuees possibly being watched/followed by a presence instead of the woman being just another person of the house.
Note: I have a strange feeling that there may have been a projection issue at the screening.
If I end up rewatching with friends I may amend these comments.
The scenes set in Eel Marsh House at night are very dark, almost annoyingly so. Even with my good eyesight I was left squinting at shadows, questioning what (if anything) actually was moving or there. In one sense, it worked well playing into the blackout and creating some claustrophobic scenes and moments. On the other hand, you couldn’t make out what actually was supposed to be happening.
Woman in Black and Woman In Black: Angel Of Death are 2 very different films, not only because of their time periods, but also in their design, stories and direction. Kudos has to be given to Hammer for not just producing a cookie cutter of the original with a slightly different setup, this isn’t Woman in Black: Lost in New York (phew).
Which you prefer will be up to you. For me its close, but I preferred the original film.
I wonder if my lack of real enthusiasm for The Woman in Black: Angel of Death had a little to do with my overall enjoyment of the film. While it’s not perfect it does have quite a lot going for it, atmosphere, the cast and a decent score from Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts.
Set some 40 years on from the events in the original film and at the time of World War II, we get a rundown Eel Marsh house this time and the local village which is completely deserted. I found the derelict house and the abandoned village gave the film a more foreboding atmosphere than the first one. The look of the house now is superb, the rotting timbers, the crumbling plaster and the broken toys; while it all looked pretty creepy in the first film, it just looked horrible and you could sense the evil in every dark corner. Talking of dark corners, yes I’ll have to agree with John here, there were some scenes where the darkness was a little too much. I was staining to see what was lurking in the shadows, if there was anything of course that is. Well it’s better than over lighting the scene I guess and taking away any doubt that something might actually have been there. But aside this, overall the cinematography was extremely good. The score added nicely to the atmosphere, and while it had the typical builds to the scares, they was a distinct lack of it at certain jumps which was very effective.
The cast was solid; Phoebe Fox was extremely good as Eve, she carried the film really well. Helen McCrory as Jean was very good and Jeremy Irvine did well in a relatively small role. All the kids were very good, well the ones that got to say anything were anyway.
As for the horror I was impressed, it worked much better than the first film for me. The scares were more fluid, even the false scares worked well. While nothing really made me leap out of my seat like Mark does, there were still a few jumps that I wasn’t expecting. With The Woman in Black and her shrouded grey face which is all rather creepy and unnerving anyway, she adds nicely to the atmosphere of the run down house.
There were a couple of things I didn’t really like, the airfield scene and then the ending just seemed a little rushed and a tad obvious as to the outcome of it all. However overall I was thoroughly entertained by the second outing of the Woman In Black, I would definitely like to see her again at some point.
I found myself a little unsure on the first WOMAN IN BLACK movie, the redeeming points were the Hammer badge, Daniel Radcliffe and what appeared on the surface to be a great ghost story and in fairness the first movie didn’t do a bad job, limited somewhat by its 12A rating but nonetheless I still found that I enjoyed it and it had a good few old fashioned scares that caught me off guard. So the news of a follow up could only mean a good thing, after all Eel Marsh House was a great setting for a scary movie.
Forwarding forty years since the first movie and dropping us right in during the height of World War 2, the movie opens well and we are treated to scenes of war time devastation and the need to get children out and into a place of safety. Where better than to dump that poor group of kids than the delightful Eel Marsh House, what could possibly happen there? So sweeping vistas of the English countryside, steam trains roaring through it and we are into the bleakest setting for a movie I have seen for quite some time.
This is where the movie in itself starts to go downhill and it just didn’t work for me in the same way the first movie did. It relies on too many jump scares and has characters that you just don’t care about and I found that even at 98 minutes it was way too much and there was just so little going on that I wished for it to end. Throwing in a love story set around a decoy RAF base and it just loses what made the first movie work so well.
Can I find anything in this that I actually liked? To be honest I’d be hard pressed to do so, again it isn’t an awful film but the sum of its parts just does not work well together. Eel Marsh doesn’t hold the same sense of dread this time around, you are not going to make your film scarier by setting it all in low or no lighting and don’t even start me on the incompetence’s of the two women left to take care of the children.
This is a film I wished I hadn’t bothered seeing, at a time when there are some great releases this just fills me with regret. For what could have been a good movie, capitalizing on what worked in the first film and building on that is lost in this unnecessary and poor follow up.
Woman In Black: Angel Of Death is at cinemas from 1st January.