“Our own worst enemies are ourselves, our fears”
Where films succeed, sequels must now follow and after The Woman in Black did decent Harry Potter-fuelled box office, it was inevitable that a return engagement would follow. The Woman in Black 2 – The Angel of Death hit cinemas at the beginning of the year to less-than-stellar reviews and on watching the film, it isn’t too hard to see why despite the presence of Phoebe Fox and Helen McCrory at the head of the cast.
That said, it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Jon Croker’s screenplay uses another story from Susan Hill, set 40 years on from the first film in the middle of the Blitz from whence McCrory’s headmistress Jean Hogg and Fox’s Eve Parkins are evacuating a group of their schoolchildren. But the frying pan of Nazi bombers is followed by the fire of malevolent spirits as the safe haven they are granted turns out to be the haunted Eel Marsh House.
And in the opening half of the film, there’s a wealth of fascinating subjects touched on – wartime survivor guilt, the enduring distress at losing a family member, societal pressures on women, combined with an unflinching approach to the Woman in Black’s predilection for making children kill themselves that establishes a strong beginning. But as Tom Harper moves into the second hour, a workmanlike approach to its scares diminishes its intelligence.
McCrory brings a fierce brittleness to Jean but it is Eve who is centre stage and Fox rises to the challenge admirably, even when forced into some depressingly predictable horror movie tropes. Jeremy Irvine’s troubled RAF man Harry provides a little too much distraction which pulls focus away from the central women and is part of a pay-off that doesn’t really pay off. More importantly, the film never manages to achieve that creeping sense of horror that would make it truly work.