In 2012, the new incarnation of Hammer Studios did an adaptation of The Woman in Black based on Susan Hill’s novel and the highly popular–and truly terrifying!–stage play. Starring Daniel Radcliffe post-Harry Potter, the film was a decent chiller with a nice emphasis on its design and moody atmosphere. Now we’re getting a sequel without Daniel Radcliffe, director James Watkins or screenwriter Jane Goldman. But is Angel of Death a good continuation of the titular woman’s haunting, or is it another missed opportunity like last year’s offering from Hammer, The Quiet Ones?
It is the 1940s and London is in the grip of the Blitz. A young schoolteacher Eve (Phoebe Fox) accompanies a group of evacuees to the safety of the countryside. Their destination is Eel Marsh House, which is haunted by the Woman in Black, a sinister spirit who compels children to kill themselves whenever she is seen. As Eve tries to uncover the strange goings on in an attempt to protect the children in her care, it seems that something from Eve’s own past is adding to the ghost’s desire to make her suffer.
There is something very elegant about an old-fashioned gothic ghost story, and Angel of Death is effective at getting across the appropriate atmosphere, with World War II being a fitting, grim alternative to a more typical Victorian setting. And Eel Marsh House is so dank, remote,and decrepit and as it is wrapped in fog so thick, it drags you into a sense of isolation and dread.
There are quite a few of the usual tropes and some of my highly-loathed pointless jump scares in the film, but there are some that are well-executed. The most effective scary moments in the film (outside of its atmosphere) are ones of subtlety and misdirection–when we see a blur of a face in the background with no attention drawn to it, or when the camera focuses in one place and something happens just outside of where we’re looking. A chill went down my spine when in a certain scene Eve is drawn into the house’s basement by a sound that will be hauntingly familiar to fans of the previous film and stage play.
The plot feels like a logical furtherance of that from the previous film, helped by the fact that the story was created by original author Susan Hill. Fox’s Eve is a likeable protagonist, striving to smile and soldiering through her own sadness with a determination to help and care for her students. Jeremy Irvine also appears as an air force pilot who Eve befriends and has a few particular (and less literal) ghosts of his own. Interestingly, Irvine’s character isn’t dismissive or overly skeptical when Eve tells him about the supernatural things occurring.
Whilst not as long-term effective as the first film or the stage play, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death is entertaining and creepy while not feeling as cheap as some recent horror films. If you have a taste for classic ghost stories, it is definitely worth a look.