Directed by: Tom Harper
Starring: Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Leilah de Meza, Phoebe Fox, Ned Dennehy
The woman in black is back. Back in black I guess. Hammer's 2012 adaptation of Susan Hill's cult novel was a massive hit for the resurrected studio, so it's no surprise that a sequel was ordered. Old Hammer of course made their name from their classic franchises - Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy etc - and now New Hammer have their first franchise of their own. Sadly, apart from a terrific fog-shrouded location, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death throws very few bones to fans of the iconic studio's classic gothic horrors.
This time the action moves forward several decades to 1941, with England under the kosh of the blitz. With London serving as the Luftwaffe's number one target, children are being evacuated from the capital to safer rural areas, and sensitive young London teacher Eve (Fox) is assigned the task, along with her cold-hearted older cohort Jean (McCrory), of relocating a group of children to a small village on the coast. Turns out their new home happens to be Eel Marsh House, the decrepit mist cloaked site of the events of the previous movie, and home to the title spook herself.
The WWII setting adds an interesting element, with the mandatory wartime blackout serving as an excuse for the film to be constantly shrouded in darkness. The early scenes make good use of this conceit, with a wonderfully atmospheric bus ride through narrow country lanes flanked by creepily deformed trees. The arrival at Eel Marsh House promises much in terms of creeping dread, but once the assembled characters close its creaky door behind them, the movie begins a rapid downhill descent into post J-Horror cattleprod cinema cliché.
Director Tom Harper and screenwriter Jon Croker (a novelisation released earlier this year was adapted from an early screenplay of Croker's, as opposed to this being a filmic adaptation of that publication) deliver a highly derivative piece of work. The central premise of orphaned children owes much to the Iberian horrors The Orphanage and The Devil's Playground, while Eve's many dream sequences bear more than a passing resemblance to the Silent Hill games and movies, demonic nurses et al. The fantastic location could be straight out of a movie starring Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, but the film's noisy approach owes more to the crash bang wallop films of James Wan than the brooding gothic classics of James Carreras, polluted by poorly telegraphed cheap jump scares and sub Elm Street dream imagery. Too many of the film's sequences revolve around a character going for a late night stroll, usually punctuated by the revelation that they are in fact dreaming.
With Universal recently drawing the ire of horror fans by announcing their intent to reboot the classic monsters that made the studio's name as a series of superhero inspired action movies, now would be the ideal time for Hammer to return to their roots and deliver the no nonsense treatments of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman and friends that genre fans are crying out for. With each release, however, Hammer seem more and more intent on distancing themselves from their heritage.
By Eric Hillis