Truly, deeply, stupid
Hollywood has never shrunk from ruining a good thing—and here I use the term “Hollywood” generically, because in fact The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is a British/Canadian co-production. But the principle remains the same; Woman in Black 2 is a sequel that not only sullies the memory of the movie that came before it—it makes you wonder if the original movie was as good as you thought it was.
So before I change my mind, let me say here that 2012’s The Woman in Black, which starred Daniel Radcliffe and was loosely adapted from Susan Hill’s 1983 pastiche of a gothic horror novel, was a tidy little ghost story that took major liberties with Hill’s plot but remained true to its spirit of dreadful foreboding, generally eschewing cheap scares in favor of a mounting atmosphere of fearful anticipation. It was written by Jane Goldman and directed by James Watkins. Both were relatively inexperienced (though Goldman had scripts for Kick-Ass and Stardust to her credit), but they showed a clear understanding of their material.
This second time around, not so much. The writer is Jon Croker, the director Tom Harper; they are similarly inexperienced (though Harper has a track record in British TV), but they show little of Watkins and Goldman’s instincts. There is little in Woman in Black 2 to suggest that they are anything but the most mediocre hacks. I sincerely hope this is not the case, but Croker and Harper should know that they’re in a competitive line of work—opportunities, once blown, don’t always knock again.
Watkins and Goldman might have done better, but almost nobody from The Woman in Black is back. Daniel Radcliffe, of course, might have come back except … well, nevermind; let’s not rouse the Spoiler Police. But compare the credits of the two movies and the only name you see both times—besides nine of the original’s 17 credited producers—is composer Marco Beltrami, whose obtrusive score detracted from the original more than adding to it.
The reason none of the original cast is back is that Croker’s script takes place some 40 years later. It’s 1940, and London is suffering under the Blitz; we first meet our heroine, a young schoolteacher named Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) in a makeshift bomb shelter with hundreds of other Londoners. She smiles at a little girl and draws her into conversation about her teddy bear, while the girl’s mother remarks on Eve’s ever-present smile. “It’s all we can do, isn’t it?” Eve replies. But we will soon learn that Eve’s smile is the smile of the truly and deeply stupid.
We see this demonstrated in short order, when Eve, along with her employer the imperious Mrs. Hogg (Helen McCrory), is escorting a group of school children from London to the presumed safety of the English countryside. As it happens, the refuge for these children turns out to be the remote, derelict and (as we soon learn) haunted manor house from the original Woman in Black.
A while back, in another review, I mentioned the genre of “don’t-go-in-that-dark-room-you-idiot horror movies.” In Woman in Black 2, this is depressingly literal. When a flat tire disables the bus transporting Eve, Mrs. Hogg and the kids in the dead of a misty night to their destination, Eve immediately abandons her charges at the side of the road, venturing into an apparently abandoned building in search of dark rooms to explore. Truly and deeply stupid.
The building, Eve soon learns, isn’t abandoned after all—although who the babbling madman in the building is, and what he has to do with anything, never gets adequately explained; it’s just an excuse for a jump-scare punctuated by Beltrami’s obnoxious music (abetted this time by one Brandon Roberts).
Oh, need I go on? Don’t waste your time with Woman in Black 2, nor with trying to figure out the gaping holes and loose ends in Croker’s script—for starters, why anyone would send a bunch of innocent kids and two hapless women to a miserable ruin at the ass-end of nowhere in the first place? Instead, put the Daniel Radcliffe original in your Netflix queue, turn out the lights and curl up with the kind of movie that gives ghost stories a good name.