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Film Review: The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

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★★★★☆

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death has been a long time coming - announced in 2012, delayed in production, it was finally released on 1st January.

The first film in what is becoming a franchise was a moderately effective exercise in atmosphere and jump-horror, featuring Daniel Radcliffe peering around dark corridors as he spent time alone in Eel Marsh house. This time we have wound forwards a few decades from when the last film was set – we are now in World War II territory, with a group of evacuee children set to the aforementioned house in order the avoid the Blitz on London.

Like the first film (which was a book by Susan Hill, then a stage play, then a TV movie, then a cinema feature), Angel of Death has gone through a couple of incarnations. It has been based on Hill's original idea, which was then turned into a screenplay by Jon Croker and, before that could be turned into a film, novelised by talented crime writer Martyn Waites. And finally, it has now been brought to the big screen by The Scouting Book for Boys and Misfits director Tom Harper.

Harper’s assured though careful direction turns out to be the perfect fit for this strange and deliciously eerie sequel. He very effectively plants the viewer within the house with the young children and their teachers-turned-guardians (Phoebe Fox and Helen McCrory). Thrown into the mix is a troubled and terrified pilot (Jeremy Irvine), who adds a touch of romance from the younger of the teachers and serves for a particularly upsetting plot twist later on. The film is intriguing in the way it manipulates our interpretation of Irvine’s beauty; an attractive young man whose handsome features impress those around him yet seem to give him a sense of childlike naivety.

The horror is a little harder-edged compared to the 2012 film, a fact signalled by the fact this instalment carries the more restrictive 15 rating, whereas Watkins’s movie was re-edited so as to secure a 12A (even so, it still became that year's most complained about cinema feature according to the BBFC's records).

Without the teen-appeal of Radcliffe, however, it is perhaps a wise choice by the distributors to have confidence that the 15 certificate need not have too much affect on Box Office takings. The main weakness of Watkins’s film was its lack of real horror; it always felt it was holding back, unsure as to how far it could go. Harper’s sequel, however, lets the scares bloom with disturbing clarity without ever stepping into gratuitous nastiness. This is a frightening ghost story that still works as an enjoyable piece of spookiness for the Christmas season (and yes, I do count New Year's Day as Christmas). 

As a final, playful touch, the film casts Adrian Rawlins, the star of the original 1989 ITV version of The Woman in Black, as a supporting character. Many will not realise the coincidence, but those who do may delight (as I did) in finding his reappearance in the same world as the deadly ghost who he once fought against as a creepy little added bonus.

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2015), directed by Tom Harper, is released in the UK on 1st January 2015 by Entertainment One, Certificate 15. 




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