REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media
The horror film, “Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death,” opens in 1941 as British scoolchildren are being evacuated from London railway stations. They are being transported to the supposed safety of the countryside. There, they will be far from the bombing raids of the German Luftwaffe, which concentrated on urban centers.
Alas, for one group of embarking children, the well-intentioned evacuation will take them into an even more perilous world. It is one where ghosts are all too real.
Two teachers, the middle-aged sourpuss, Mrs. Hogg (Helen McCrory), and the younger, sweeter Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) are accompanying the children to the now-abandoned village of Crythin Gifford. One of their charges is Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), an orphan. He has turned mute following the death of both his parents. Eve feels an immediate kinship with this traumatized boy.
Aboard the train, Eve meets a dashing RAF pilot, Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine, on the fully grown up version of his “War Horse” persona). The mutual attraction between the two is obvious, even if it is quite subdued. By happenstance, Harry is stationed at an airfield, which is close to the group’s destination, Eel March House. Isn’t that convenient, just in case they run into trouble?
The Eel March House turns out to be in dilapidated condition. It is set on a bog, which is enshrouded by a seemingly ubiquitous mist. It is connected to the mainland by the Nine Lives Causeway, However, every time that the tide comes in, the manor becomes detached from the mainland.
Apparently, none of these evacuees saw the original “Woman in Black.” That Edwardian era horror drama had the distinction of being the first role that Daniel Radcliffe took after completing the “Harry Potter,” series. He played a widowed solicitor, who was dispatched to Eel March House to resolve an estate matter.
If only the evacuees had seen that film, they would have known that the manor is H-A-U-N-T-E-D! To make matters worse, Jennet Humfrye (Leanne Best), the ectoplasmic villainess, who is haunting the place, has a specialty. Back in the 19th century, she had her own son stripped away from her. Consumed with an appetite for vengeance, the spectral form of Jennet now makes other young children kill themselves.
Even without seeing the prior film, wouldn’t the name itself, Eel March House, be a tip off that this is the sort of creepy place that you might want to avoid? If a deluxe hotel was named the Haunted House Hilton would you still check in there?
Both Eve and Harry are encumbered with their own surprising back stories. These will tie into their struggle with the Woman in Black.
Once arrived at Eel March House, Edward begins demonstrating trance-like behavior. The other children also start acting strangely. Of course, Mrs. Hogg is skeptical, insisting that there is no such thing as the supernatural. When the empirically-minded Eve points out all the strange, inexplicable phenomena, the two clash. Do you have any doubt as to who will be proven right?
The source novella for “The Woman in Black” was a 1983 Gothic horror novella by Susan Hill. Its theatrical adaptation by Stephen Mallrat became the second longest-running West End stage play, behind only “The Mousetrap.”
The screenplay for this sequel by Jon Croker is dominated by a panoply of all too familiar haunted house tropes. However, the direction by Tom Harper (“The Scouting Book for Boys”), the muted chromaticity in George Steel’s cinematography, and the production design by Jacqueline Abrams help rescue the film from oblivion. Abrupt snippets of composition credited to Marco Beltrami, Marcus Trumpp, and Brandon Roberts, complemented by jolts of jump-cut editing by Mark Eckersley prove effective in raising the scare quotient of the film.
Despite a contrived plot line, “Woman in Black 2” packs plenty of atmosphere. It provides more than a few moments that will have horror genre devotees jumping out of their seats.
“Woman in Black 2” **1/2 PG-13 (for some disturbing and frightening images, and for thematic elements) 98 minutes
Film critic Nathan Lerner sees more than 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at email@example.com.