Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Straight-Up Scary Saturday! Under the covers, hiding their faces, are your bloggers, Andy and Lilly.
Today’s film offering: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death
Lilly: As a heads up, this review will have spoilers for The Woman in Black, the prequel to this film, but then again, the novella came out in the early eighties, so if you aren’t reading up on your short horror stories by Susan Hill, well, that is not our problem! (Or really a problem at all, but still. Go read some Susan Hill, actually, she’s great.)
But! This isn’t about books, this is about films! So. Yes. Moving on.
The set-up of this film is relatively simple. It’s the war, don’t you know, and children are being sent off from London, which is a bit dangerous. So, they send them to an isolated, dilapidated old house full of mildew and mold to be safe under the care of two women, neither of which have a vehicle in case of emergencies. Safe!
Andy: “No thanks, I’d rather deal with the Luftwaffe.”
Anyway, this particular, extremely isolated house was home to Alice Drablow, whose sister Jennet was a bit miffed when her child got taken away from her. And by that I mean she killed herself, became a malevolent banshee and regularly murders children. I’m sure those evacuees will be fine.
In some ways, she represents an even greater threat than in the first film. In that, there was a moment of hope, where reuniting her with her dead son (oh yeah, he also drowned, which didn’t help) seemed to quell her restless spirit. However, it ultimately didn’t work. So this time, we know she absolutely cannot be reasoned with. You run away, taking as many under-10s as you can lay your hands on, or you accept that She Will Have Her Way.
Lilly: Truth time: this film scares me. As Andy put it, it features a banshee-like creation who is even more ghostly in this film than the first, as she barely has any backstory or build up given. This film comes out swinging, no ‘maybe she is a nice ghost’ or ideas of her being misunderstood. No, she killed Daniel Radcliffe’s adorable child in the first film, she doesn’t give two damns about being understood! She wants revenge, plain and simple.
That said, my word, does she seem to enjoy what she does in this film. There is far more ‘hijinks’ performed by Jennet in Angel of Death, from children being led into the nursery to drudging up bad memories of the protagonist. She is on her A ghost game, and it almost gets a little annoying, mostly due to the fact that we barely see her. There is a lot of teasing, a lot of explosively frightening moments, but Jennet herself isn’t given any strong on screen time like you got in the last half hour or so of the first film.
Andy: It’s the difference between a force of nature and something actively malevolent. And yeah, that is one of my first criticisms with this film. Not showing the scary thing is always scarier than showing it. But, unless you decided to dive straight into the sequel, we know what she looks like. There’s no mystery to her appearance. And so glimpses of her become a bit irritating rather than creepy. “Oh there she is. Wait, she’s gone.”
Lilly: Jennet, however, wasn’t the most horrific character in this film for me. No, it was Eve Parkins, our plucky, smile-no-matter-what-even-if-your-family-is-dead-because-I-DO-AND-I’M-FINE-NIGHTMARESWHATNIGHTMARES protagonist. From her first moments in the shelter during a raid, responding to a woman and her frightened child asking how she keeps smiling with ‘Well, you just have to!’ I had to stop my eyes from rolling clear out of my head. Do you? Do you just have to? That woman you just smiled at might have lost a husband, a son, two brothers, an uncle, and her father to the war, but just keep smiling because maybe your child is terrified and won’t sleep for days due to this experience, but HEY WHY NOT SMILE IT OFF. No acknowledgement of other’s pain, no real sense of others having ever suffered, she rubs me all the wrong ways. Oh, but of course, she does stop smiling when Edward, a recent-as-in-last-night orphan shows up and she has the most condescending ‘aw bless’ sort of face on that, again, I had to hold my eyeballs in. Where’s your smile NOW, lady?
Andy: Yeah, she’s clearly suppressing some major trauma. Trouble is, when this trauma is revealed, the immediate response is not sympathy, but more along the lines of wondering whether she should be allowed around children without some therapy first.
Which brings up the major problem I have with this film. Who are we supposed to identify with? We have this woman, who is not compelling and can be generously described as poorly written. Who else have we got? The other woman in charge? Her plotline is brought up, ignored, and then quietly shot behind the chemical sheds. Not to mention she’s fulfilling the role of aggressive unbeliever. The kids? Jerks, nobodies and Edward. The RAF guy? I guess. But even then some late reveals about his job and his ‘shame’ are plain silly. He’s saving lives, for goodness sake.
Lilly: It feels like, in the end, the writing of the people of the time was done by someone who barely understood the psychology of the time and only had a basic high school knowledge of the era to work on. Sorry not sorry. It was a cast of stereotypes. Plucky woman, getting the job done with a smile on her face, even with a dark past–to make her interesting enough to get away with plucky. Strict but caring matron who practically grew up in the army but has her weakness, too. Young, strapping RAF lad who will do his darndest to make sure what is right gets done. And then children, who are either bullies or orphans.
Andy: Not to mention that anyone my age raised in the British education system are sick to bloody death of evacuees. Ooh they didn’t know what a sheep looked like! How weird!
Lilly: Don’t get me wrong–the characters in this film are found in loads of other films, not just horror, and I find them annoying there as well. It really pulled me away from the tension of the moment, and you could really tell the first film was based off a novella while this…not so much.
There were some good moments, certainly. It throws back to the original television film with the playing of the wax phonograph cylinders, and you see a scene in the graveyard that was in the book but left out of the first go-round with the Woman. It has some really creepy moments that make it so, even without a firm set of characters or sensible plot, I am left having to watch something before bed that isn’t scary to make sure I don’t have nightmares.
Andy: But the original had that and a firm set of characters and a sensible plot. While we don;t like to compare sequels to readily to the original – even sequels can sometimes have qualities that make them interesting independent of the original (eyes box in corner labelled “Whiy Alien 3 isn’t shit”). But this just doesn’t stand on its own in the same way. The good ideas come from either the novel or the first film, and when you take those away, you’re left with a few scary moments, some not-very-interesting characters, and…that’s it.
It’s not one we’d really recommend, ultimately.
Lilly: And if we were to recommend it, it would be in a different category than the original film–it’s less slow-burning ghost thriller and more shock-scare date night nonsense you can talk over. Get the popcorn in the noisy, rustly bag, and enjoy.