It's become an annual tradition for Hollywood to kick off the new year with a dose of January horror: Last year it was "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," "Texas Chainsaw 3D" in 2013 and "The Devil Inside" in 2012.
Now comes "The Woman in Black 2: The Angel of Death," a follow-up to the Edwardian-era chiller starring Daniel Radcliffe that became a sleeper hit two years ago. Radcliffe, however, isn't present this time around, and neither are good reviews. According to critics, this ghost story is atmospheric but lifeless (not in a good way).
In a mildly positive review for The Times, Gary Goldstein writes, "As a non-fan of the 2012 film … I can safely report that 'The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death' is an improvement on its predecessor. That said, the new installment is, at best, a serviceable creep show, one with far more chills than thrills."
Goldstein adds that director Tom Harper "has infused this evocative, handsomely mounted film with its requisite share of jolts," but unfortunately, many are "dream-sequence cheats or jokey contrivances."
The New York Times' Ben Kenigsberg laments the absence of Radcliffe, "along with much of the promise once heralded by the logo of Hammer Films, a former workhorse of British horror." While the film "begins with surprising elegance," Harper "seems less interested in allegory than in monotonous, conventional goosing, the kind that involves flickering lights and a creaky rocking chair."
USA Today's Claudia Puig similarly writes, "Despite its patina of stylishness, 'The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death' is sorely lacking in thrills. It's mostly deadly dull, and when it does liven up a tad, the haunted house tale offers only wan shock tactics."
Although the production design is "admirably stately," Puig says, the sequel isn't as "involving or spookily atmospheric as the original," and it "adheres strictly to trite formula: Must every emotionally scarred child latch on to a sinister-looking doll? Do all rocking chairs have to rhythmically sway in the middle of the night with no one in them?"
New York magazine's Bilge Ebiri says "Woman in Black 2" is a "dour, drab, dark movie, enlivened by some moderately effective chills in the first half but ultimately undone by its downbeat aimlessness." For the first hour or so, the sequel is "a reasonably evocative mood piece," but it doesn't last: "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."
Ebiri asks, "if the filmmakers don't care, why should we?"
And Variety's Scott Foundas calls "Angel of Death" a "handsomely made but dramatically inert and not very scary sequel." Harper, he says, "manages a couple of reasonably jolting scares, mostly through shock edits and sudden shrieks on the soundtrack.… But a truly memorable ghost story needs more than that."