Director: Tom Harper
Starring: Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory, Leanne Best, Adrian Rawlins, Oaklee Pendergast, Ned Dennehy
Written by: Jon Croker and (story) Susan Hill
Running Time: 98 mins
Release date: 1st January 2015
I went into The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death with a little trepidation. I liked the original 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe but how could you make an effective sequel. I needn’t have worried. This follow-up (of sorts) delivers and delivers well. Pay attention all those horror film makers who are making these naff cheap thrills and empty-headed shockers. This is how you do it.
1941 and a group of children are being evacuated from London and sent to live in the creepy of house at Eel Marsh with their head mistress, Mrs Hogg and their kindly teacher, Eve Parkins. Among the children is Edward, a young boy who has just lost his parents and is now refusing to speak. Once in the house, strange things start happening and Eve believes that there is someone else inside the building. Yet it’s Edward who seems to be acting the strangest until Eve uncovers the truth about the building and events outside in the marsh land.
Produced, once again, by Hammer Pictures, the masters of horror, this starts off with the right level of atmosphere and sense of menace and doesn’t let up throughout. Director Tom Harper has done some very clever things here: keeps the feeling of suspense and making us constantly on our guard because instead of telegraphing every little shock days in advance, as most modern directors do, he isn’t afraid to throw a random jump here, an unexpected scare there.
The whole film just feels creepy. From the moment the children arrive at their destination, you are almost instantly tensing up, looking round every corner for something to come jumping out at you. Once the terror does begin, it’s almost like riding a ghost train.
So why does this work when other horror films like Ouija don’t? Simple. Have characters you care about and emote with. These innocent children, torn away from the lives they know, easily make you go with the rest of the film, especially with Edward, the silent, tiny boy who the spirit uses. It is a simple yet effective masterclass on how to make a spooky horror. No need for gallons of blood. No need for every gory detail to be shown. Just good old-fashion scares and there are plenty of them.
It also helps having a heroine who you trust. Eve Parkins is the kind of teacher we all wanted: kind, caring and understanding, yet tough when she needs to be. Her back story alone, a pivotal part of the film, so no spoilers here, makes you immediately care about what happens to her.
The performances are strong from the whole cast, including the children. Phoebe Fox as Eve, carries the film brilliantly, showing us strength and vulnerability when needed, without taking the level of her performance too far. Jeremy Irvine, as a grounded Air Force officer, is fine and the underrated Helen McCrocy, as the head mistress, is also very good.
The film’s real star, however, is director Harper, who has crafted a beautifully looking film that isn’t afraid to push some cinematic taboos as well as give us a decent jump or two. By the reaction from the audience I saw it with, I wasn’t the only one jumping out of my seat.
The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death may not have the prestige of the first film and some might think the whole thing is just another box of cheap thrills. Yet I found it to be smart, intriguing and a far more scary film than it had any business to be. 2015 is supposed to be one of the biggest years for cinema and if they all can be as good as this, then it’s going to be a very good year indeed.