Settling in with a new arrival from the recently revived Hammer Film Production company is always a quaint experience. The British studio responsible for a whole slew of Frankenstein,Dracula, and horror anthologies in the sixties and seventies, my bread and butter during late night monster movie reruns while growing up, has brought itself back rather admirably, bucking the trend of contemporary horror films that are riddled with lazy jump scares and flashy editing directed at younger audiences. In 2010 they released the outstanding Matt Reeves’ helmed remake of the Scandinavian film Let The Right One In called Let Me In, in 2012 they succeeded with a remake of the 1989 British television movie, and adaptation of the famed novel, The Woman In Blackwhich has the distinction of being Daniel Radcliffe’s first post-Harry Potter film, and last year they had The Quiet Ones, which was not so good, but proves even in their failures they manage to hew to their singular approach, slow burn ghost stories steeped in rich, gothic atmosphere. So, not exactly what one would find in the recent board game adaptation of Ouija.
The story of The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death once again surrounds the mysterious and haunted Eel Marsh house. I won’t go into the details of the backstory, as this sequel goes to lengths to retell the events of the past, perhaps to make the film more independent from its predecessor, or perhaps to squeeze every last ounce of dread from its horrid revelations. It takes place a few decades after the first film, during World War II, where a group of orphaned children are put up in the decrepit house to save them from the war-torn English cities, watched over by their teacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) and headmistress Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory). Soon strange and tragic things start happening to the children, and a personal secret that Eve harbors draws out the spirit haunting the house, setting up a collision course with the sinister presence in the films final moments.
Angel Of Death is not as good as the earlier remake for a number of reasons. Radcliffe’s character comes to the house as a deeply wounded and lonely man, still grieving the loss of his wife, and forced by his firm to complete the task of sorting through the affairs of the abandoned house’s previous owner. We are privy to his dilemma right from the start, and it helps in associating the terror with his plight. A reveal is kept regarding the villagers unorthodox behavior, and so the lengthy, silent wanderings down dark hallways is given significant gravity over the narrative. In Angel Of Death we are kept in the dark, much like the characters, so the scares that come, as well as the sinister atmosphere, comes across as more of an exercise for its own sake, than a vital part of the weaving storyline. The acting is uniformly good, and the direction by British television veteran Tom Harper is serviceable, though a slave to a screenplay that keeps its cards too close to its chest, not realizing that sometimes the scariest moments come when the audience thinks it has all the information it needs.
Despite my lukewarm reaction to The Woman In Black 2, it remains a welcome break from the onslaught of quick cuts and flash photography of most of what passes for horror from Hollywood these days, and I look forward to every film Hammer releases. They could easily develop into a cottage industry of story-driven ghost tales anchored by their antiquity. Their minimalist approach might keep them from pulling off aConjuring level of magnificence in the future, but consistency after finding the right pitch will ensure they always have a group of devoted fans, of which I am happy to include myself.
The Verdict: Rave