By Kyle Anderson
January 02, 2015 at 03:00 PM EST
Nick Wall

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

  • Movie

Most of the interest around 2012’s The Woman In Black centered on star Daniel Radcliffe, who was appearing in his first movie since the decade-long Harry Potter series cast its final spell. Wizarding enthusiasts were treated to a well-constructed if mildly unremarkable thriller that built a spooky atmosphere but left little lasting impact.

The sequel, Angel of Death, is more or less a carbon copy of its predecessor—eerily pretty and lovingly crafted, but lacking any punch at all. Not even Radcliffe’s natural charisma could save it. Phoebe Fox does her best as Eve, a schoolteacher charged with shuttling a group of children out of London during the Blitz. Unfortunately, the attempt to keep the kids safe backfires as they relocate to an absurdly remote and cartoonishly creepy old house that happens to be haunted by the titular funereal female. The darkly-veiled Woman seems particularly obsessed with little Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), who just lost his parents in the bombing and has conveniently stopped talking so he can’t explain what’s happening to him nor scream in fear when confronted by the spirit.

That’s enough story for a tightly-wound pressure cooker of a spook show, but for some reason, screenwriter Jon Croker and director Tom Harper pile on way too many story elements, including Eve’s recurring dream about a baby, the Woman’s convoluted back story, and a deeply unnecessary romantic diversion featuring a soldier named Harry (Jeremy Irvine) and his struggle with cowardice. As a result, each one of those threads gets short shrift even as Angel of Death works toward its confusing but energetic finale.

There are moments in Angel of Death that look absolutely stunning—cinematographer George Steel really makes the swamp surrounding the haunted house feel both terrifying and oddly inviting, and the last swooping move at the end of the film is a real microphone-dropping moment. That finale is undone a bit by the last frame, which suggests a sequel on the horizon. In no universe is it a spoiler to reveal that it is suggested that the Woman will be back again. Just about every commercial horror film wants to turn itself into a franchise, which is why most every wrap-up is open-ended. From a business perspective, it makes sense, but it also completely negates the 90 minutes of storytelling that precedes it. Angel of Death, and many other films like it, present a universe wherein evil is absolute and also indestructible. If that is the case, then why bother getting invested in anything the characters do? Why bother with heroism at all if we’re all doomed to be ravaged by the vague whims of a specter? These questions (and their inevitably cynical answers) wouldn’t come up if the film itself seemed more interested in anything than merely existing.

Like the first film, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death isn’t terrible, but it’s also fantastically slight. Any tension created during its key moments completely evaporates once the lights come back on. The Woman may be back for another fright, but Angel of Death doesn’t haunt like it should. C-

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 98 minutes
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  • The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death