Sunday, 4 January 2015



Well, it's a shame to kick the New Year off with a bit of a duffer, and hopes were high given the genuine scariness of the original film (and the increase to a 15 certificate), so this really should have been the cinematic equivalent of an open goal. Sadly, bizarrely, this misses almost entirely and it's actually remarkable just how far short it falls - for all the jump shocks and Boo! moments, it's surprising in its non-scariness. Sure, there was a lot of shrieking and giggling from the youngsters in the front row when I saw it, but there was hardly a frisson for me.

The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (there is no number 2 in title) sees a return to the forbidding, mist-shrouded Eel Marsh House. It's now 1941 and the house is opened up for children evacuated from London at the height of the Blitz. But the eponymous spectre is still in the house, targeting one particular traumatised boy in particular: can dedicated teacher Phoebe Fox (with a dark secret in her own past) figure out what The Woman In Black wants from them and protect them - not just from the ghost but also from the tightly closed mind of headmistress Helen McCrory?

Not only is this not a scary film, it's a scared film: it doesn't have the confidence to rely on its vintage Hammer setting - the archetypal Spooky Old Mansion that no-one in their right mind would ever set foot in, forever enveloped in fog and frequently cut off by the tide - or its cold, dark atmosphere of dread. Or, indeed, with the huge amount of goodwill left over from the terrific original. Instead, it lets loose with sudden jump scares every five minutes or so and loud orchestral crashes on the soundtrack. This should be the easiest scare tactic to pull off, since our brains are naturally pre-programmed to respond to loud noises as a survival instinct, and yet I barely felt a flicker of reaction from any of them.

Against that, there are a couple of effectively creepy and unsettling moments when The Woman appears in the semi-darkness (incidentally, this is a film which will lose a lot of impact if the cinema doesn't kill the house lights) or, in the film's most powerful shot, we just see her hand. Subtlety and restraint may not have the immediate popcorn-in-the-air impact of scary faces leering unexpectedly at you, but they can make for unsettling cinema which generally works a lot better than just shouting Boo! at you. And Hammer were never about simple cattleprod shocks: they were about atmosphere and character and craftsmanship, qualities which were well to the fore in the 2012 film but which are pretty much squandered here. If you only want a film to make you shout "Eek" at regular intervals and clutch your date's arm in panic, it pretty much does that job, but for anything deeper it's something of a disappointment.


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