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The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

(2015) * 1/2 Pg-13
98 min. Relativity Media. Director: Tom Harper. Cast: Phoebe Fox, Merryn Pearse, Jeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory.

/content/films/4787/1.jpgWhat's in a brand name? The storied Hammer Films label—a British film-industry institution—got back in business in 2009, and in 2012 made its most convincing bid yet to bring Hammer back to prominence, with the Daniel Radcliffe starrer The Woman in Black. But since Hammer hadn't produced much since the mid-'80s, its assets having since been passed from consortium to consortium, new Hammer Films are essentially establishing a new identity trading on the goodwill for the old one. So far, with The Woman in Black and its sequel The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, that identity is shaping up to be classy-ish dullness in the horror space, some distance from the bright-red-bloody Grand Guignol of the Hammer heyday.

Susan Hill's novel The Woman in Black became a smash-hit play in the late '80s, so popular it continues to run in the West End, and if the film version with Daniel Radcliffe proved a bit soggy, it at least had a star player and the solid foundation of Hill's novel. The sequel, which boasts a story credited to Hill, has the character of a rehash, a watered down, near-flavorless broth. That's too bad, given a reasonably promising premise, the sort of idea that may seem obvious, but if it's so obvious, why didn't you think of it first? That creepy island haunted mansion Eel Marsh House remains standing decades after the turn-of-the-century events of the first film, and now that WWII has rolled around, remote country estates are in high demand as refuges from the London Blitz. And so it is that a truckload of bparding-school brats relocates to Eel Marsh House to be boo-bait for the Woman in Black.

This premise could yield something along the lines of Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone or, at least, an entertaining scarefest energized by the children's points of view. Instead, Angel of Death invests in a less engaging stock character, schoolteacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), whose defining traits are a spooked deference—first to headmistress Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) and German bombs, then to the titular ghost—and a general sense of care for her charges. Principal among these is mute PTSD-suffering orphan Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), whose condition and propensity for being bullied draw special attention from Eve. Also in the picture: Eve's would-be boyfriend Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine of War Horse) of the Royal Air Force. Wouldn't you know it? He and Eve have something in common: a Big Secret.

Problem is that neither screenwriter Jon Croker nor director Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders) can convince us to care about any of this, which reduces the film to a lumpy bag of perfunctory character developments, bland performances, and clichéd scares. Once that's apparent, The Woman in Black 2 becomes quite a slog on its way to a relatively engaging climax that gets outside of the house: mostly, Harper relies on the worst in modern horror: jump-shocks that suddenly flash and bang but won't make most horror fans even flinch satisfactorily. Angel of Death has a smattering of effective moments and a creepy cinematographic look to it, but the sequel's redundancy to its predecessor and pulseless feints at tapping into human emotion leech the suspense out of the picture.

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Aspect ratios: 2.39:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 4/14/2015

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox gives The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death the royal A/V treatment in its home-video debut on Blu-ray. Fox's digital-to-digital hi-def transfer sports an expectedly clean image, and one that handily maintains crucial shadow detail—as much as we're meant to see, that is. It's a delicate transfer that has to deal with so many low-light interiors, and there's nary a compression artifact to be spotted here. Also to be expected: the image perks up considerably in the light of the outdoor sequences, though the film's original muted color scheme gets a faithful rendering that keeps the film in the far-from-cheery territory where it belongs. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix works hard, playing with power in its sudden jolts and sensitively rendering its subtle ambience in the meantime spaces. The impressive ambient immersion of effects and clean rendering of score cues never threaten to drown out the dialogue, which always remains above the fray.

Along with a "Deleted Scene" (2:33, HD) and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:26, HD), bonus features include two decent extras. "Pulling Back the Veil: The Woman in Black 2" (14:15, HD) fulfills the EPK functions of set B-roll footage and cast-and-crew taking heads, while "The Woman in Black 2: Chilling Locations" (5:10, HD) gets into the most germane of behind-the-scenes topics for this film: the shooting sites cast for maximum creepiness.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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