Thursday, December 25, 2014

'The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death' (2015) directed by Tom Harper

In this review I will attempt to give you a rough simulation of just how annoying The Woman in Black 2 is.  Please turn the volume on your computer up to get the full experience.

The Woman in Black 2 is an impossibly naff, deeply dull horror film in which everyone involved puts in the bare minimum effort to collect a paycheque.  After the well-regarded The Woman in Black made fistfuls of money for the resurrected Hammer brand, I suppose a sequel was an inevitability.  A cash-in squirted into the dead zone of January cinema  doesn't inspire the highest cinematic hopes, but you never know, the series' loose mythology might allow some hungry young director to make a name for himself.

No such luck.  In this sequel, the time frame has moved on from Edwardian up to World War II.  Our heroine is Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), a kindly, sensitive young woman charged with the safety of a group of young evacuaees.  With the Blitz in full swing it's too dangerous for them to stay in London.  So the powers that be decide that the safest place to send these already traumatised children is Eel Marsh House, a dilapidated, mouldy ruin jampacked with hella creepy things in the middle of a tidal bog that's constantly wreathed with spooky fog.  Fair enough.

Yeah this place seems legit.
The previous inhabitant apparently had an fetish for eyeless china dolls, stern-looking paintings and broken children's toys.  There's even a mysteriously locked room that “nobody goes in”. Naturally there's also a angry ghost hiding out, whose supernatural powers appear to consist of primarily of screeching.  As the plot trundles along a crappy love story also springs up between our heroine and Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), a hunky yet tortured pilot who's stationed nearby.  

The basic ingredients of The Woman in Black 2 (angry ghost, good-hearted heroine, mysterious house, creepy kids) are about as familiar as you're likely to get in fiction. But that doesn't mean you can't slot them together into fascinating new configurations. Unfortunately The Woman in Black 2 does nothing fascinating, or even mildly interesting, settling for a mummified plot whose developments you can see coming a mile off.

Worse, it's not scary.  Don't get me wrong, you'll jump, but that's only because Tom Harper has decided to construct the film entirely around jump scares.  The thunking rhythm of the film basically goes like this.  Quiet bit... quiet bit... really quiet bit... *SCREEEEEAM!* Rinse and repeat that every 10 minutes and after 90 minutes you've apparently got yourself a horror flick.  The law of diminishing returns soon comes into effect.  The first jump scare jolts you out of your seat, but by the ninth you couldn't give less of a shit.  

Horror isn't often Oscar-bait, but there's a rigorous cinematic art in scaring the crap out of an audience, an art The Woman in Black 2 blithely ignores.  A good horror film should inspire some kind of existential dread.  The best horror directors realise this, mixing up a cocktail of fear from slow-burning ambience, exploiting common psychological worries, using subtly disorientating cinematography and, most of all, creating sympathetic characters

But Tom Harper is a one trick pony, his relentless hammering on the quiet bit/loud noise dynamic is annoying rather than scary.  Sure you can scare audiences like this, but it's baby's first horror technique.  By the time the credits roll The Woman in Black 2 has more in common with crappy YouTube scare memes than it does with its genre classics like The Shining, Repulsion or even The Bababook.

Spooky things should probably avoid cosy cardigans
None of this is helped by performances that, at best, border on acceptable. The only person to come out of this relatively unscathed is Phoebe Fox.  She plays her role with the steely determination of someone that's sure that buried somewhere in this dog of a script must lie something, anything dramatically worthwhile to latch onto.  She's wrong, but at least she's trying.  

Then again, perhaps Jeremy Irvine is also trying his best, though that is a low bar to clear.  Irvine is one of the few actors whose mere presence in a movie outright dismays me. There's something insincere behind those wooden eyes, as if he's some kind of Patrick Bateman-esque robot calculating the best way to appear human.  If The Woman in Black 2 can be said to have any worth, it's that Irvine's presence in a low-rent horror sequel may mark the beginning of a long downward spiral for him, hopefully meaning I'll soon never have to deal with him again.


If you've been following along with the multimedia aspects of this review you'll likely be deeply annoyed.  This annoyance is but a fraction of what you'd feel if you went to see The Woman in Black 2.  If Hammer continue sending rubbish like this into cinemas their resurrection will prove to be all too brief.

The Woman in Black 2 is released January 1st.

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