Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Woman in Black 2 - Angel of Death

Back To Black

The Woman in Black 2 - Angel of Death
2015  UK/Canada
Directed by Tom Harper 
UK cinema release print.

Okay then. This film is a sequel to The Woman In Black (reviewed on this blog here).

It’s incorrectly stated that it’s the first Hammer sequel to have the number 2 in the title... people seem to be forgetting one of Hammer’s finest films, Dracula AD 1972, for some reason, not to mention another one of their all-time greats, Quatermass 2, both of which, as you can see, also have a 2 in their titles. It’s also been claimed that this is the first sequel under the Hammer company name (regardless of the basis of that brand name acquisition) since the 1974 movie Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. However, that title was first released in May 1974 and I believe their last Dracula film, Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires, was actually their last sequel, which was first released five months later.

Now that I’ve got all of those strange claims out of the way, I can cut through to the film itself. The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death (or, as it is on the BBFC certificate which plays before the movie in the cinema I saw it on the first day of its general release... The Woman In Black Plus Angel Of Death - First Look... what is up with that?) is a continuation in spirit, not in terms of characters, of the events that took place in Hammer’s first movie adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 novel... subsequently adapted as both a successful stage play and a television movie before the more recent version.

The 2012 version was a fright fest of standard scare tactics made effective by being executed so expertly and, though this sequel is by a different director, has a different cast and is set in a later time period, I’d have to say that this movie is, more or less, the equal of the first movie in many respects. It’s true it has a less than perfect batting average in all the scary sequences but then again, so few modern horror movies do and it’s always going to be a bit of a hit and miss affair in terms of audience reaction on these kinds of things, to be fair. I’m still a firm believer that the audience brings a certain amount of personal baggage to a film themselves and this can sometimes make various kinds of sequences either more or less effective, depending on the psychological make up of a specific audience member.

That being said... this made me jump a fair amount of the time. Being as I have slightly higher blood pressure than I should do, it makes me wonder if I’m going to leave some of these screenings alive once the adrenalin kicks in.

The story in this one moves the period right into the Second World War... which is a perfect plot device to put children, the normal victims of The Woman In Black’s attention, into harms way. A small bunch of young ‘uns is evacuated, along with two teachers, to a house to get them out of London while the bombings are happening (something which was commonplace at the time, my dad was evacuated for a while). And, yeah, guess which dark, empty, rattling and thoroughly unsettling, isolated house they are evacuated to. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel and I have to say I was surprised at the amount of restraint the writers showed within this obvious set up... there are deaths to be had here but not as many as I was expecting, given the circumstances.

The film has good things and bad things going on for it.

The framing and the way the camera moves through the sets and the way certain shots are edited against other footage is all very nice. A downer, though, is that a rather muted, almost pastel colour scheme is employed throughout the film. In itself that would normally be okay but I think it may have been better received by my complaining optic nerves if the film wasn’t so darkly lit for the majority of its running time. It’s a horror movie so, yeah, the easiest way to be useful to the main tactic of scaring the pants off you is for it to be fairly dark but, I found the juxtaposition of the lighting style in contrast to the colour palette did make things seem somewhat dingy and less interesting and generally hard to focus on a lot of the time. Now, it might have been that this was the point but I did find that the frame designs didn’t hold my interest as much as they would if they had either been more brightly lit or used brighter or more saturated hues.

That being said, however, there are some nice “jump” sequences and, unlike a lot of modern horror, the film does manage to actually surprise you in a few places by not telegraphing the jumps ahead of time and putting them in unexpected places which you would be hard put to “read” before they happened. Although, having said that, it is very subjective. I knew, when I saw a nurse carrying a baby towards the front of the screen, exactly where a jump was going to come, for instance, and was thus unaffected... but I was quite affected by the legs kicking into the back of my seat as the group of teenagers behind me squealed in terror at this point. So, yeah... very much a subjective response.

In addition, there is also a lot of the running time where jumps and atmospheric passages are deliberately telegraphed by music and I think the reason for this is that, if the sequences played without the score in those stages, the fright moments would have just fallen flat. Luckily, director Harper has the good fortune to have a more than adequate score by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts and this is efficaciously employed throughout a lot of the film’s running time to help sharpen up some of the jump scares and to add to the atmosphere of creeping dread in certain scenes. The compositions have a meticulous grasp of timing... which is always a good thing with something like this where the old school practice of Mickey Mousing the actions on screen sometimes comes into play with the odd musical sting or two. I’ll definitely be ordering the CD of this one when it comes out in a week or two.

Another thing the director is quite clever with, to accent the scares, is to occasionally cross cut two atmospherically intense sequences featuring different characters together, so you’re never really sure which of the two sequences that he’s cross cutting are going ot have the obligatory “jump moment” in them. This is something I found very helpful as an immersive device, as I was trying to work out which elements he could make work as something terrifying in each of the cross cut scenes... since the title character presumably can’t be in two places at once.

Where the film did let me down, however, is in a movie experience which felt like a proper story sequence. Yeah, it all holds together okay but the way the scary bits are strung together very much feels like just a load of set pieces shuffled up and then thrown haphazardly, one after the other, to be hastily woven into the main fabric of the film. Things do make sense and everything seems to follow through... but I did feel like the emotional manipulation of the audience was a little “by the numbers” and clumsy for a lot of it... whether the sequences themselves were effective or not.

It’s a minor grumble though, to be honest. I found the movie about on a par with the first one and horror fans should have a fairly okay time with this one... as long as you’re not expecting great art or something you need to think about. Certainly a sequel which does well to at least change the canvass a little, this time around... even if the scares are all a bit deja vu when it comes to the previous feature and, lets face it, most horror movies with a basis in this kind of supernatural sub-genre. Something which will make you jump at least some of the time and, if it can do that, surely that’s half the battle won. Maybe give it a look if you have some time on your hands. You could do a lot worse at the cinema at the moment, methinks.

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