Overview: A group of young children and their teacher evacuate war-torn London and seek refuge in a house haunted by a malevolent force. Relativity Media; 2014; 98 Minutes; PG-13.
The Sequel That… Who Wanted?: I know I have seen the original The Woman in Black. I made it a point. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it recently. But all I remember from that film is Daniel Radcliffe was in it and there was a series of visually arresting shots of an eerie foggy marsh. Imagine my surprise when I returned home from watching the sequel and discovered that I actually owned The Woman in Black for some reason, and yet, I spent most of my time during the sequel trying to figure out what information was meant to rehash what I should have known from the first chapter and what information was supposed to be a shocking reveal. I can’t imagine why anyone felt compelled to make this sequel. I also can’t imagine it being any more memorable than its predecessor.
A Great Setup: To its credit, Angel of Death continues the presentation of the creepy scenery of the first film. The long shots of the marshes, beneath fog and night sky, tease bone-chilling effect. The set pieces and props within the haunted house are incredible and certainly deserve to serve host to a scarier film. The film is decorated with the sort of decrepit, joyless, nightmare toys that one might expect in the better James Wan films, but these dolls are never put to any good use. Likewise, the traumatic historical context and the tragic backstories of the two central characters Eve (Phoebe Fox) and Harry (Jeremy Irvine) are, for a few short stretches, unexpectedly compelling and might have made for a good pairing with a frightening central plot. But that does not exist here.
How to Blow a Great Setup: There was a popular series of internet gags in the mid-2000s that required the target of the prank to lean toward the monitor and turn up the volume on his/her speakers while he/she watched a video or attempted a basic maze puzzle, only to be surprised by a quick flashing, screaming face. It was startling, yes, but it was cheap and easy, the way pranks should be, not movies. Yet, it is also exactly the same (and only) method of fright employed by Angel of Death. On more than one occasion, the ghost of the malicious titular ghost is presented as the sort of still, simple flashing image and shrill screaming sound effect as those old amateur internet pranks. Viewers can count the jump scares like clockwork, and even if they don’t catch the pattern, most of these startling moments are telegraphed by poorly thought musical build-up. Normally, the application of tension-building music is misdirection; it’s only after the viewer’s sense of comfort has returned that the jump scare is unleashed. Not here. Angel of Death plays its generic score directly into almost every “surprise” scare.
Overall: Because The Woman in Black 2 applies only the cheapest form of horror technique, it is destined to be as forgettable as its predecessor. Ask me in a week and I’ll probably only remember the foggy marsh.