Hammer’s follow-up to their biggest success story of recent times comes with a certain degree of respectability to off-set cash-in concerns, as original author Susan Hill provided the basis for Tom Harper’s World War II-set ghost story.
It’s 40 years on from the first film, and teachers Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) and Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) are taking a group of evacuees out of London to a house in the countryside.
The house, of course, is Eel Marsh House, and their presence quickly awakens the unquiet spirit that lives there. As the Woman in Black begins to exert her force over the children, Eve must confront her own fears and dark secrets in order to save the lives of her charges.
At first glance, the film has a lot going for it: the already creepy Eel Marsh House gone to rot, a time period overflowing with emotional and physical trauma, and a group of evacuees being threatened by a spirit that specifically targets children.
However, despite clearly drawing inspiration from the great Spanish ghost stories of the last decade like The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage (as well as Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others), The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death struggles to establish a clear identity of its own.
Harper is adept at building atmosphere, and Croker’s script gives the characters a bit more depth than you might expect, but this suffers from one of the classic sequel weaknesses: that of going through the motions. While the scenes involving the children are well-acted and written, there are also sequences straight out of the horror playbook (hello, mad old blind man).
The Woman in Black herself can’t evolve as a character, so Eve goes through the same voyage of self-discovery that Daniel Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps did in the first film. Jeremy Irvine’s performance as the damaged airman who latches onto Eve is fine, but the character has the annoying habit of arriving to allow plot to happen.
There are some redeeming features: a late sequence in which the characters must keep their eyes closed at all costs is genuinely scary, Fox is a strong lead, and McCrory is on good form as Eve’s no-nonsense colleague. It’s certainly not terrible, but it is distinctly unmemorable nonetheless.