ANGEL OF DEATH
(US/UK/Canada - 2015)
Directed by Tom Harper. Written by Jon Croker. Cast: Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory, Adrian Rawlins, Oaklee Pendergast, Leanne Best, Ned Dennehy, Leilah de Meza, Jude Wright, Pip Pearce. (PG-13, 99 mins)
When it hit theaters three years ago, THE WOMAN IN BLACK was a nice throwback to gothic, old-school British horror and was one of the very few offerings from the newly-revived Hammer Films that was worthy of flaunting the beloved house of horror's treasured name. Other than THE WOMAN IN BLACK and the LET THE RIGHT ONE IN remake LET ME IN (2010), there hasn't been much for horror aficionados to get excited about with Hammer, which will henceforth be referred to as "Hammer" because, let's face it, it's not really the same Hammer and the current owners are just using it for name-branding to get a pass from horror scenesters. It seemed to work until last year's pedestrian THE QUIET ONES seemed to alienate everyone and finally expose "Hammer" as an in-name-only fraud. Now, "Hammer" is trying to win them back with the unnecessary THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH, a sequel with no returning cast members, filmmaking personnel, or characters, save for the titular ghost. This would seem to have "straight-to-DVD" written all over it, but it's a very atmospheric film with impeccable production design and some good performances, but after an intriguing set-up, it doesn't take long for the film to play all of its cards and exhaust the few original ideas it's got. Repetition sets in and the vivid period detail can only carry things so far.
EXORCIST MAZE GAME: THE MOVIE. In its quieter moments, THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 is more successful, with the depressing, dilapidated interior of Eel Marsh House and the perpetually gray skies and rain doing their part to convey an appropriate sense of melancholy and despair. The lone road to Eel Marsh House--that long causeway leading to the house that disappears when the tide comes in--remains an effectively chilling image and Harper pulls off a few striking shots both inside and outside the mansion. Despite these positives--and Fox is a very appealing heroine--THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 suffers from a sense of indecisiveness and an uneven tone that stems from its wish to stay true to the Hammer of the past and its mandate to placate fans of the "Hammer" of the present. It wants to be a moody gothic chiller but it has to please the cheap jump-scare crowd. At least it doesn't pander to found-footage aesthetics, and in that respect, it's a major improvement over the quite disappointing THE QUIET ONES.