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The Woman In Black AOD

“The Woman In Black” was a movie I really enjoyed; I like Daniel Radcliffe as an actor, and I think that he fit that film perfectly. Furthermore, I find the story genuinely interesting, because there’s something truly unsettling about any horror movie involving the death of children, and you feel a sense of sympathy for the villain of the piece which is sadly missing in almost every other film in this genre. The idea of seeing a ghost is something which terrifies almost everyone on its own, but the fact that seeing the Woman in Black invariably leads to the death of a child makes seeing her truly chilling. Therefore, I was quite excited when I heard that a sequel was in the making, even though I knew that Radcliffe wouldn’t be returning.

This film doesn’t really build on its predecessor, which is a shame, and in fact it takes a step back, but for me that was to be expected and is completely understandable. This movie doesn’t have the star power of the first film driving it forward, and we’ve already come into contact with the fabled titular character, whose appearance made the first film so frightening, so this movie was never going to go above and beyond the original. “The Woman In Black : Angel of Death” is unable to generate the same level of tension as the original, because it doesn’t have the same feeling of isolation that that movie had, given the fact that there is a group of people living at Eel Marsh House this time around, rather than one vulnerable man. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say that it is a ‘bad’ film as such, it just doesn’t have the scares needed to create a compelling horror experience, and if I’m being honest, the story probably didn’t need to be told.

This movie takes place in the middle of World War II, and it uses this era as the basis of its plot, as a group of schoolchildren are evacuated in order to avoid the Blitz, accompanied by the school’s headmistress and the main character of the film, Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox). I believe that Parkins was meant to be either a teacher at the school, or something of that variety, although I was never clear on what her role was with the children.

The plot is moved forward by Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), a young boy who loses his parents the night before the evacuation. In true horror movie fashion, this loss leads to an unfortunate and creepy consequence, namely that Edward refuses to talk to anyone. He’s traumatised by the loss of his mother and therefore he decides the best course of action is to keep his feelings locked up inside, writing anything he wishes to say down on pieces of paper. It’s understandable that he would react this way as a child, but I still feel like this is a bit of a Get Out of Jail Free card in a horror movie, forced conveniently into the story in order to generate cheap, easy scares.

Edward, Eve, and the others, end up at Eel Marsh House, home of the Woman in Black, and from then onwards things can only get worse for the group. It’s a predictable enough story, and there’s nothing new or groundbreaking here, but I still enjoy these kinds of tales. It feels like a classic story that belongs in the time period within which it is set, and even though it’s a bit of a copout, it’s a copout that I take as a guilty pleasure. If you strip it to its basic form, this is just a story about a group of people going to spend some time in a cabin in the woods, it’s just that the cabin is rather large, and the woods are more of a swamp.

The story didn’t really put me off as such, because although it wasn’t anything special, with the right kind of scares and a reasonable amount of attention to detail it could’ve been an interesting premise. However, the acting in “The Woman In Black : Angel of Death” was far from amazing, and brought the standard of the film down to a B-movie like level. I felt nothing for any of the adult characters, because they didn’t feel real or alive, and I was acutely aware that I was watching a movie.

Horror movies rarely have great performances, (which I personally think is a massive shame, because this genre of film could do with some quality performances to make everything feel that bit more engaging), but when the characters are stupid college kids or irresponsible parents, it’s okay, because the performances fit with the ridiculous horror movie logic. However, in this movie the poor performances really do take away from the fear that the audience feels, because the setting and the era don’t feel ridiculous or over the top, they feels sophisticated and grounded in reality, and therefore require acting that can keep the audience in that world (especially when not a lot is happening on screen).

This is a minimalistic movie, in that you don’t see a lot of the Woman in Black, and there aren’t a lot of thrilling moments to keep the audience involved, so when a young actress like Phoebe Fox is asked to carry the movie with her performance, you have to worry. I think she did her best, and she wasn’t terrible, but she just wasn’t quite at the level she needed to be in order to make this film a success (in terms of quality). She doesn’t really portray the inner conflict which the character is supposed to be feeling, nor does she express a real understanding of her character. She doesn’t convey the fear and anxiety that her character would be feeling to the audience, and she isn’t nearly expressive enough, meaning that Eve seems all too ready to accept the existence of ghosts, and is more than happy to panic the children.

Probably my favourite thing about the movie was the set design, which partly benefits from the setting itself. Eel Marsh House is a wonderful location for a horror movie, with boggy ground surrounding the only escape route, empty rooms and dark hallways filled with sinister toys, it really is quite perfect. This film doesn’t explore its location nearly enough, but when it does there are interesting objects to look at, which create an impressive ambiance, and I was impressed with the way in which these artefacts were carefully placed around the actors, creating ugly and interesting shadows. It’s nice to get a sense that the filmmakers understand what they have with this setting, because it shows that there were at least some intelligent decisions being made for the sake of atmosphere, and that some effort was made to make a good film, even if the end product wasn’t brilliant.

I also appreciated that the film wasn’t bogged down by a CGI ghost roaming the halls and doing ridiculous things. That was my biggest worry going into the film; the idea that we’d suddenly see an artificially generated woman flying around, dragging children by their hair, screeching to create jump scares. We’ve seen that type of thing before in “The Conjuring”, and it brought that movie down for me, so I’m glad that we were spared that type of monstrosity in this film. Nevertheless, I still feel that there was an element of idiocy regarding how the Woman in Black looked in this film, and also feel that the character was somewhat underutilised.

I’ve seen “The Woman In Black” at the theatre in London, and I have to say that it was genuinely terrifying. The makeup on the actress’ face was harrowing, and watching her slowly and quietly move around the stage behind the actors was both distressing and disconcerting. I believe that an actress that has played the role of the Woman in Black in a reputable theatre production would’ve been the perfect choice in this movie, and would’ve been ten times as scary as the ghost actually was, because although the CGI wasn’t heavy-handed, it was still there and still distracting.

“The Woman In Black : Angel of Death” isn’t fantastic, in fact it has a distinctly amateur feel to it, but I didn’t feel cheated by the filmmakers when I left the cinema. Although the film lacks a bit of substance, due to poor performances and a dull story, I do feel that there was a decent attempt being made to create a horror movie that wasn’t over the top, which tried to focus on atmosphere rather than jump scare after jump scare. The wonderful setting and sinister titular character carry this film to heights that it probably doesn’t deserve to reach, but it still doesn’t manage to do anything special, and it isn’t worth watching unless you’re with a group of friends on a stormy night, with nothing better to do.

5.5/10

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