The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death ★★★★


Really, really liked this. Willing to buy that the British do sequels better than us (still have to see QUEEN & COUNTRY but I have high hopes) but I also just think the Hammer guys know they're never gonna make blockbusters, so the least they can do is take care. They're on a hot streak now (Woman in Black, Quiet Ones and now this) and I sincerely hope they learn that it's the stuff between the scares that make these films so winning. I even kind of love the story of this one better than the original (strong heroine, cowardly second fiddle, house full of kids, rivalry with DOZENS of authority figures). The lady could have sat this out and I still would have loved it. Seriously lovely film and a lot of inventively low-key scares. Yeah, it doesn't have the utter fucking terror factor of the original, but it colours inside the lines on the story front. I *LOVE* the Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine storyline. Slightly subverts trad gender dynamic. And oh that fucking texture. The production design isn't as reach-out-and-touch-me detailed as the first, but it's got something else, that I've been having a hard time putting my finger on. It shines like modern horror, but there's a kind of bottomless sorrow down every hallway. Watkins was all about the unknown, that every room could contain something horrific. Harper lets you know that every bedpost, doorframe and gate has seen hundreds of years of tragedy unfolding around it. Different effect entirely.

There's also the very sly way this does that typical sequel thing of just updating the context of the malevolence slightly. Susan Hill's The Woman In Black seems to me a story written to cast Thatcherites gaze back in time to make them realize that the policies of one horrifying woman with no maternal instinct could lead a lot of kids to their death. The original novel is both a gothic historical horror and a plea for us not to follow The Iron Lady into her brave new world. They both have menacing nicknames, for heaven's sakes. The writers here (Martyn Waites, who wrote a novelization sequel before Angel of Death was made, and Jon Croker) have kept the spirit of the woman alive by placing her directly into a national conflict (they've also brought back Adrian Rawlins, who played Arthur in the original Woman In Black adaptation back in the late 80s, an awesome little nod). And she plugs in pretty seamlessly. After all, what conflict claimed more young lives than World War 2? That's rhetorical, please don't correct me. From that opening shot where the camera catapults into the heavens to observe London burning, we know that no matter where our heroes go for safety, death will find them. It's killed their parents, their friends, and that's enough to scar you even if it doesn't kill you.

Irvine's character, a coward masquerading as a hero (that doesn't count as much of a spoiler, by the way, it's hinted at preeeetty early on), is also pretty transcendent. He's a proto-Freddie from Rattigan's Deep Blue Sea. The main difference is that Irvine doesn't see combat *until* he takes on the Woman in Black. That scene where he's running around getting bombed looking for a kid is beautiful, and not just because it's lit so well. He overcomes his fear only when someone's life is at stake. It's a nation's consciousness realizing that you shouldn't have to risk your life unless a child's life is in danger. The historic subtext isn't watertight as it's plainly 2015 talking instead of 1941, but not a bad use of period trappings, and it's a welcome inversion of Irvine's War Horse character. How many other horror films have time for a humanitarian backbone?