Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)

While I liked Hammer’s first Woman in Black movie quite a bit, I find it difficult to come up with much to praise about Tom Harper’s sequel. Oh, it’s not a truly bad movie – it’s obviously made by professionals (it’s the “everything’s technically alright” non-praise) – but it’s painfully uninspired, as slight as a puddle, and without much of an imagination. While the film’s cornucopia of flaws aren’t truly painful, there’s very little it actually does right. Oh, who am I kidding? This thing’s actually pretty dreadful, just in the deeply boring way that comes with technical competence.

At least, it becomes bad quickly once Angel has finished establishing its plot (such as it is) as taking place during 1941 – which is a genuinely good idea a better film could have done a lot with and at least shows the makers didn’t just want to make the first movie again - and concerning the misadventures of two teachers and a group of evacuee children who are for reasons that never will make any damn sense brought to Eel Marsh House and will therefore be threatened by our titular ghost as known from movie number one. Obviously she fixates on the mute traumatised member of the child cast, because having the kid thusly stricken makes the stakes automatically higher without the film actually having to do the hard work of involving its audience through mysterious feats like sharp characterisation.

Alas, it’s pretty difficult to believe these children would have been brought to a place this much of a ruin, and this isolated from the outside world, and the rest of the film won’t be getting much more logical. It is really less a lack of logic here, I think, but rather one of world building, as if the film assumes it’s enough to make vague gestures towards the horrors of 1941 but never bothers to make the 1941 the characters walk through a fictional reality. There’s a lack of internal coherence here in other regards too that I find rather maddening – the characters’ various traumas never add up to anything more but to an opportunity for one or two scenes of crying, the film’s haunting makes little sense (and not in the way the supernatural is supposed not to make sense), and the finale is just inexplicable in its utter randomness. Actually, come to think of it, I’m being too nice to what really is lazy writing, an unwillingness to examine the formulas used, that just reproduces crap screenwriter Jon Croker (Susan Hill is credited with “story” here, but I don’t think she’s responsible for much more than the setting) saw in other films, loose ends and bad ideas flapping in the wind.

Of course, I’ve praised films with worse scripts and even praised them for their lack of coherence, but Angel does not show any interest in being dream-like or anything of that sort at all, it just prefers to not really make sense and not be very interesting. Harper’s direction doesn’t improve my impression, for while it is basically professional, it is also as uninspired as the rest of the film, with the supposed spooky scenes by numbers stuff, some dubious ideas about how to light scenes (apart from a few nearly effective shots of twilight grey landscape, everything here is either too dark or too bright to a degree it is nearly comical), leaving me with the general feeling of watching a slightly more costly TV movie. Of course, the first TV movie that comes to mind in this case, a certain Woman in Black, was much more atmospherically directed (as well as intelligent, coherent, and emotionally involving), for much less money and made in much less time than this one here.

And of course there are jump scares, too, all just as thought through as the rest of the film, which is to say, not very much.

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