It turns out I don’t remember much about The Woman in Black (2012) other than it starred Daniel Radcliffe, took place in a big, scary house in the English countryside, and (I think) had a kind of sad, twist ending. The good news is you don’t have to know anything about it before watching its sequel, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death. In fact, its characters know nothing about the original and they’re able to figure it all out fairly quickly. That’s not a complaint; it’s nice for a character in a horror movie not to spend half the running time trying to convince other characters that the supernatural really exists.
The opening of The Woman in Black 2 is terrific. However, it’s hard to top the scene of frightened families in 1941 London hunkering down as explosions rock the bomb shelter and the ceiling crumbles above them. Then, the camera pulls back outside and we see the war-torn streets and dirigibles floating in the smoky nighttime sky. What horror could be worse than this? Perhaps that’s one reason I didn’t find the movie to be particularly scary, even though the subsequent set-up has potential: fill the previously mentioned house in the country with orphans. At the very least, we know the house is haunted, so multiply the number of potential victims… and make them children at that.
There are some scary moments in The Woman in Black 2, but I wouldn’t classify them as “false scares” or “jump scares” like some critics have claimed. To me, a false scare is when the suspense builds and you know any moment something is going to happen, then suddenly… a cat jumps through the window. Whew… false scare. The scares in The Woman in Black 2 are genuine, but the difference is that they come out of nowhere; there is no suspense leading up to them. In that sense, while they don’t seem false, they do seem cheap. If that’s what you like in a horror movie, you’ll like this one. But if you prefer the buildup to the scare over the actual shock, this one disappoints.
Otherwise, the direction by Tom Harper is adequate. He’s got a huge head start with the location and set; it would be hard to squander what is scary on its own. So it may be more likely that cinematographer George Steel is responsible for the atmosphere and mood. Jon Croker, the story editor for the first movie, provides the screenplay. He replaces Radcliffe’s character with a mean guardian for the children, Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) and a nice guardian for the children, Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), as well as throws in a love interest for Eve, Henry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine). Eve and Henry have backstories, but we don’t know much about Jean.
On paper, there are intriguing elements on which to build a decent horror movie, so I’m not sure why The Woman in Black 2 didn’t quite work for me. It’s deliberately paced, but not slow. The acting is fine. The score by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts is effective and non-manipulative. I think it’s because, as a movie of any genre, it all didn’t gel for a completely entertaining experience. And as a horror movie, although it had scares, it lacked the suspense that is integral to generating those scares. Plus, the scares weren’t necessarily new; they’re the same ones from the first movie.
Still struggling for an explanation for my feelings about the movie, I just re-read my review of the original. Although I don’t remember all that now, it describes a movie much more interesting and complex than this one. As much as I’d like The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death to stand on its own, I have to compare it to understand the relationship. And it really doesn’t compare to its predecessor. My final recommendation, then, is to watch the original. The sequel adds nothing new to the story or mythology. It doesn’t build on what came before. Why, it’s a mere ghost of a better movie.