Starring: Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine, Oaklee Pendergast, Helen McCrory, Adrian Rawlins
Rated PG-13 for Some Disturbing and Frightening Images, and for Thematic Elements
Ah yes, January. The time of year when Hollywood's good movies have all come out (although "Selma" and "American Sniper," the two remaining heavy hitters, have yet to be widely released) and the movies that didn't turn out as expected or were made simply to make a quick and easy buck at the expense of quality (hey, you gotta fill those discount bins at Wal-Mart somehow) are released into theaters for the sake of texting tweens and adults who are looking for any excuse to get a babysitter.
Actually, "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death," a sequel in name only to the 2012 horror flick starring Daniel Radcliffe and Ciaran Hinds, isn't that bad. That's different from it being "worth seeing," which it isn't, but at least it's not as bad as some other January releases. Remember "Mama?" If you don't, or didn't see it, consider it a blessing.
Unlike the 2012 film (and the 1989 TV movie, which shared the same novel as the source material) which took place in the 19th century, this new film takes place in the early years of WWII (1941 if memory serves). Because their families can no longer care for them during wartime, two teachers, Eve Parkins (Fox) and Jean Hogg (McCrory) have agreed to take them to a remote island mansion. One child, Edward (Pendergast) lost his parents the night before, and writes little notes instead of speaking. Also involved is Harry Burnstow (Irvine), the handsome pilot Eve meets on the train. When they get there, they soon realize that there is something going on.
"The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death" is really two films: one decent but with potential, the other nonsense. The first is the attempts of a schoolteacher to survive in an isolation during wartime with co-worker for whom the term "strict" is a personal motto, and her fledgling romance with Harry. This is interesting and reasonably effective; not groundbreaking stuff, but watchable. The other is a horror film, which feels like an act of desperation on the part of the filmmakers. Director Tom Harper doesn't have an eye for atmosphere or pacing, although he can set up a decent jump scene. Sadly, when the film is half over, the horror story takes over and that's when the film falls flat on its face. Because of bad sound, the villain's key motivation is unintelligible, and that results in the final act making zero sense.
The acting is good. Phoebe Fox looks cute and can project warmth, but doesn't display great range or screen presence. Jeremy Irvine doesn't have much to do other than look sexy and heroic in a bomber jacket (which he does). Young Oaklee Pendergast doesn't look that creepy or vulnerable, which is all that's required of him. And Helen McCrory plays Jean as someone who is very strict, but has humanity. Adrian Rawlins, who played the lead in the 1989 film has a small role as the bus driver. Trivia fact: both McCrory and Rawlins had roles in the "Harry Potter" film franchise; McCrory played Draco Malfoy's mother Narcissa (having had to turn down the much bigger role of Bellatrix Lestrange, which was then given to Helena Bonham Carter, due to pregnancy) while Rawlins played the role of Harry's father, James.
I'll admit fully that the film looks great; cinematographer George Steel gives us two or three beautiful images. But that's different from atmosphere, which is created from sound, lighting, camera movements, and above all, pacing. That's where the film falls short. It doesn't have the rhythm or the patience to be an effective horror movie. I think that Harper should have watched "Cracks" and "The Innkeepers" beforehand for inspiration.
Still, there are some worthwhile moments here, including an unintentional laugh or two. For example, whenever Eve takes a run through the woods she emerges without a scratch on her and a hair out of place, and when she takes a tumble down a muddy hillside she emerges looking like she had just showered and put on freshly laundered clothes. There are also some impressive pyrotechnics (!) and the ghosts look and act like zombies.
It's not great art, but for what it is, it could have been a lot worse.