When it comes to horror movies, the sub-genres — the crazed killer(s) on a slasher spree, the demonic possession, the monster/zombie rampage and the paranormal/ghost story — are recycled with a few tweaks here and there to keep the fans interested. Of these themes, the ghost story has the most disadvantages because there are fewer options to maintain a fresh and creepy presentation. Mysterious bumping and creaking, furniture moving on its own and fleeting ghostly images can only go so far in making an impact on an audience.
“The Woman in Black: Angel of Death,” the sequel to the well-received 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, is one of those follow-up movies that really adds nothing to the story.
The premise shows some initial promise. The story takes place in 1941. With England being pummeled by bombings as part of the Nazi Blitz, a group of children who have no immediate relatives is rounded up to be taken to the rundown Eel Marsh House as a temporary and supposedly safe orphanage.
The adults in charge are Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory), a strict school mistress, and her assistant Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), who has a better grasp of handling these vulnerable children than her boss.
Times are desperate in England, which is the only rationale for sending already emotionally distressed children to a remote, derelict ruin like the Eel Marsh House, with limited access and surrounded by dreary and creepy woods, and, of course, a cemetery.
The script by Jon Croker does not devote much time in developing characters of the youngsters, focusing primarily on Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), a boy who has gone mute in the aftermath of a bombing that killed his family.
The set-up is effective in that children are now facing potential peril, so it would have been better if some of these young people were given a chance to display some personality.
But that aspect is devoted entirely to the adults. Eve at first seems to be a grounded young woman who has managed to maintain a positive perspective in the midst of the horror of German aggression. Jean is authoritarian and often cold — this is her way of coping with the grim reality of war.
A third adult is introduced upon the party’s arrival at Eel Marsh House — Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), a young pilot who seems to have a lot of time to drop in at the house, with hints of him having designs on Eve.
Once the people get settled into the house — not exactly the most cozy of lodgings — it is time for the creep show to start.
But after a decent build-up of dread, the spookiness deteriorates. A major is problem is that writer Croker and director Tom Harper overuse the gimmick of the fake scare. Sure, they make the audience jump, but it is all just a tease. It’s cheap and lazy.
Eve and Edward are the only ones who become aware of the malevolent spirit of Jennet Humfrye, still out to wreak havoc in response to the death of her illegitimate child Nathaniel. Amid the not-so-scary incidents, Eve tries to unravel the mystery of the haunting, and along the way, confront an unfortunate incident in her own life.
The action intensifies later in the story, but the conclusion wilts in its soggy resolution. One cannot help but wonder if the director and writer had not expended so much energy on thinking up the inconsequential scares they might have been able to create a truly nerve-wracking story of a restless, vengeful spirit.