“The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death” just joined the hall of movie sequels that aren’t nearly as good as the original.
The follow-up to the 2012 horror starring Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter”) has received mostly rotten reviews, only able to rack up a 26 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a feeble welcome compared to the 66 percent “fresh” rating that greeted the first installment.
TheWrap‘s Alonso Duralde gave director Tom Harper’s PG-13 ghost story points for creating an eerie atmosphere, but was turned off by its reliance on jump scares as the titular spirit exacts her vengeance by killing children.
“Set in a gloomy house where you can almost make out shapes skittering through the shadows, ‘The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death’ is the kind of horror movie where you can see the smart, stylish scare film that’s constantly being obscured by cheap and easy jolts,” Duralde wrote in his review. “Every good idea this sequel has to offer winds up taking a backseat to the most obvious cat-in-the-closet ‘BOO!’ moments imaginable.”
“Woman in Black 2” stars Phoebe Fox and Helen McCrory as orphanage caretakers who transport 40 children to the abandoned haunted house they hope will be a safe haven from the horrors of World War II. When they discover the house may not be so safe, after all, they enlist in “War Horse” star Jeremy Irvine to investigate.
The result, according to USA Today critic Claudia Puig, is “a bland, chemistry-free love story” and very few scares.
“It’s mostly deadly dull, and when it does liven up a tad, the haunted house tale offers only wan shock tactics,” Puig wrote. “The production design is admirably stately, but the film never manages to be as unsettling as it seeks to be. Nor is it as involving or spookily atmospheric as the original.”
When the film does manage to invoke fright, the method to do so certainly isn’t very inventive.
“The woman in black may function as a kind of proxy for the war: In her presence, death is unavoidable. But the director, Tom Harper, seems less interested in allegory than in monotonous, conventional goosing, the kind that involves flickering lights and a creaky rocking chair,” New York Times critic Ben Kenigsberg wrote.
Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri appreciated the film’s “evocative mood” established in the first hour, but was turned off by what it slowly built towards.
“The film wisely avoids giving us too much explanation as to what, exactly, is going on; it lets us groove on the tension for a while. That doesn’t really last, however,” Ebiri wrote. “Pretty soon, we’re in Jump Scare City, inundated with random blasts of noise and sudden flashes of horrific ghosts and whatnot designed to yank easy jolts out of us. A little bit of this can go a long way to wind us up, but ‘The Woman in Black 2’ eventually starts using its jump scares as a crutch, piling them on in the absence of little else to show us; gradually, we become numb to them.”
Toronto Star critic Bruce DeMara piled two mores reasons why fans of the original probably won’t appreciate what he viewed as a blatant grab for more box office money, as the first installment grossed $130 million around the world.
“The script by Jon Croker adds virtually nothing to the storyline laid out in the first film that explains what motivates the spirit of Jennet Humfrye to keep on exacting revenge on the living,” DeMara wrote. “And while Harper stokes the tension adequately throughout, the film’s climax is a bit of a letdown.”
The movie did have a few fans, however. Village Voice critic Simon Abrams called it a “flawed, but genuinely creepy ghost story.”
“‘The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death’ is disappointing, but only because it comes close to greatness,” Abrams wrote. Director Tom Harper and screenwriters Jon Croker and Susan Hill take great pains to get inside the heads of their traumatized protagonists: British civilians who, during WWII, struggle to keep calm and cope privately. But while Harper does often earn visceral scares from creaking floorboards and ink-black shadows, the potent, quiet spell is also periodically broken by gratuitous jump scares.”
Los Angeles Times critic Gary Goldstein, who did not like the first “Woman in Black,” called this one “an improvement on its predecessor” because of “far more chills than thrills.”
Unfortunately for distributor Relativity Studios, people who don’t like the original usually don’t buy tickets for a sequel.