‘The Woman in Black 2’ Review: Hauntingly Crappy

'The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death'

Movie Rating:


When Hammer Films made an unexpected return a few years ago, it was a cause for celebration amongst horror nerds. In particular, ‘The Woman in Black’ recaptured the period class and stylistic panache that defined the studio at its best in the 1960s and ’70s. Now Hammer has decided to revive one of its less pleasing old-school traditions by running its newest franchise into the ground with disappointing sequels.

The last edition of ‘The Woman in Black‘ came with the pedigree of Susan Hill’s beloved novella, a chilling BBC TV adaptation, and a legendary long-running theatrical production in London’s West End. Even though it was a feature film that no one had seen before, the story had been road-tested for quite some time. Given that everything wrapped up rather nicely in the original story, the sequel requires a jumpstart – you know, the sort of thing that typically robs genre sequels of all energy and creativity as filmmakers desperately attempt to recreate what worked before. One nice thing that can be said about ‘The Woman in Black 2’ is that it at least attempts to deliver something sort-of different. Writer Jon Croker and director Tom Harper put some thought into how to bring back the titular spectre without merely rehashing the greatest hits from the last movie. Too bad it didn’t work.

The wisest move was shifting the story right out of the Victorian era and into WWII Britain. With London getting bombed up the wazoo by those a-hole Nazis, a group of orphans are forced to flee the city to find a new home. Two women lead them on this journey, the strict and tough Mrs. Hogg (Helen McCrory) and the kindhearted sweetie-pie Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox). After some shadowy and Gothic missteps, the gang ends up in an isolated mansion that will look awfully familiar to anyone who saw the last movie. It’s not just a rotted-out old house, of course. It’s also haunted, and soon the kids start seeing that spooky lady with a specific dress code.

Naturally, Mrs. Hogg doesn’t believe in any of that ghost hogwash (please excuse the pun), while Eve trusts the boys. Once grisly things start happening to the kids, even Hogg has to admit that there’s a problem. Thankfully, Eve is also a beauty who was able to attract the attention of dashing young military pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine from ‘War Horse’), who lives nearby and is happy to fight for a pretty lady, even if he’s fighting a ghost. So… yep, it’s just your usual World War II romance and haunted orphanage tale (complete with crabby schoolmarm type!) that also happens to be a sequel to ‘The Woman in Black’ remake. Yeesh!

The filmmakers deserve points for trying to make something different out of this sequel, but they just don’t live up to those ambitions. At times, it feels like the movie started as a WWII haunted orphanage tale inspired by ‘The Devil’s Backbone‘ that was shoehorned into becoming a ‘Woman in Black’ sequel. At other times, it just feels like a mess. The production values are high enough for the spooky setting and ghostly effects to look pretty good and occasionally even elicit a few chills. Unfortunately, the plot is too much of a muddled mess for viewers to develop any attachment to the characters or care about what’s happening to them. The pilot/teacher love story is embarrassingly cheesy in a manner that wouldn’t even be tolerable in a Hallmark TV movie, while director Tom Harper’s approach to horror is sadly limited to the quiet/quiet/LOUD cheap jump scares that have worn out their welcome at the multiplex recently.

In the end, this forced sequel can’t help but feel tired and redundant despite the fact that it was made by people who clearly tried to avoid the usual horror sequel traps. ‘The Woman in Black’ just wasn’t meant to be a franchise, and Hammer should have cranked out another fresh Gothic offering rather than desperately try to recreate its big hit. Hopefully, a lesson was learned. Don’t do this again, Hammer 2.0, at least not until you find a Christopher Lee 2.0 who can help you pull it off.

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