And now, for the first new release of 2015. In what's become a tradition, it's something that wants to scare our pants off. And in keeping with the tradition of January horror movies, it's not all that great at doing so.
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2015)
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing and frightening images, and for thematic elements
Well, it's better than Annabelle. Unfortunately, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death doesn't rise anywhere close to the heights of the first film (which, unless my memory's playing tricks on me, was an above-average gothic ghost story elevated by Daniel Radcliffe and a great sense of suspense), and falls more into the same muddle as last year's The Quiet Ones, As Above, So Below, and Deliver Us From Evil. Comparisons to that last film in particular are especially apt, as much like that film, Angel of Death has nice production values, good actors, and some interesting stuff going on under the hood, especially with its period World War II setting and a major supporting character who had faced tragedy on the battlefield. And much like that film, Angel of Death mostly fails as a horror flick, interested more in jump scares than anything else, and while I will admit that it got me a few times, its attempts at keeping a thread of tension running through its entire length were mostly hit-or-miss. In other words, it's a January film, the sort of thing they throw out there to make the current crop of Oscar nominees look that much better as they expand into wide release. (On that note, I really wanna check out Big Eyes and Wild.)
Angel of Death takes place in the middle of the Blitz in 1941, where Eve Parkins, a London schoolteacher, has taken several of her adolescent students up into an old creepy manor on the coast to wait out the bombing. Unfortunately, the place is haunted, and the ghost within, the titular Woman in Black, has a thing for children. There are a bunch of other parts of the story, like Eve having a connection with one of the kids, Edward, due to the fact that she had lost a child and he had lost his parents, as well as a pilot named Harry who meets Eve on the train up north and reappears throughout the story, seemingly developing a romantic relationship with her. Unfortunately, while their stories are developed nicely, the never seem to actually play a role in the central plot, which is "get out of the house with the kids". It's a shame, too, because if these side stories, interesting on their own, had been better integrated into the meat of the film, they would've made each other that much better in comparison. Harry's story in particular was especially intriguing in its own right -- his bomber had been shot down and he lost his crew, causing a demotion to home guard duty, a crippling fear of water, and no shortage of grief. He was easily the most interesting and fleshed-out character in the film, but unfortunately, outside the end where he saves the day (a job that could've been done by anyone), he's barely in the film and has almost no impact on how the story develops. At a certain point, I was expecting him to turn out to be a ghost himself.
And aside from the woefully underused Harry, most of the cast are one-note ciphers. Eve and Edward are the only ones who get any development, and even then, it wasn't enough to get me to buy into the fact that Eve is willing to go running back to the house to save him. As for the rest, we get the bus driver, who's pretty much a glorified cameo (literally -- the actor played the main character in the original British TV adaptation of the first movie), the stern headmistress who accompanied the class and serves the "horror movie skeptic" role, the two kids who get only one or two scenes before getting killed by the ghost, a crazy guy who comes out of nowhere to try and kill Eve, and the other kids who may as well be extras. The acting from all involved was solid, no less than what I would expect from a movie that wears its Britishness on its sleeve, but they can't help a film whose characters barely made any impression on me. It was pretty obviously the product of some heavy rewrites; I can distinctly recall the original synopsis for this film when it was first announced saying that it would be about the ghost haunting soldiers using her house as a military hospital, and something tells me that Harry was meant to be the protagonist of that film instead of a mere side character in this one.
Okay, so that leaves us with the final, most important question in any horror movie: is it any scary? Well, if jump scares are your thing, I will tell you that this film nailed my ass on multiple occasions, and at times it even came close to attaining something resembling dread. It wisely kept the ghost off-screen for much of the first hour, only having her appear in the corner of your eye or out in the distance. Unfortunately, it also did a very good job of telegraphing most of its scares when they did come, often deflating the tension that it had tried to build and compensating with sudden bursts of sheer noise. I feel compelled to quote Steve Carell in Anchorman when describing horror movies like this, the sort that are reliant on LOUD NOISES! to cover up for failure at building real tension.
Score: 2 out of 5
Yet another mediocre supernatural horror movie that makes me wish the genre would just take a break already. If you catch it late at night on cable, it might be worth a look, but otherwise, skip it.