As a non-fan of the 2012 film version of “The Woman in Black,” based on Susan Hill’s novella and the long-running stage play, 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.
Set in 1941, this follow-up finds kindly teacher Eve (Phoebe Fox) and her stern headmistress, Jean (Helen McCrory), in charge of a group of children orphaned during World War II. The women bring these traumatized kids to the supposed safety of the now-abandoned Eel Marsh House in the remote, fog-shrouded British countryside.
But the home is a creaky, crumbling affair with tricky door locks and bad lighting. Worse, it’s ruled by the ghost of Jennet Humfrye, the woman in black, who’s still avenging her own tragic past, which includes the accidental death of her young son.
With the help of Harry (Jeremy Irvine), a handsome Royal Air Force pilot conveniently stationed in the area, Eve will attempt to protect her charges from the evil lurking about the spooky dwelling, all while unraveling the mystery of the angry, suicide-provoking phantom. That Eve and Harry are both haunted by their own personal demons adds a welcome texture to the largely ho-hum supernatural narrative.
Director Tom Harper, working off a script by Jon Croker, has infused this evocative, handsomely mounted film with its requisite share of jolts, many of which, unfortunately, are dream-sequence cheats or jokey contrivances.
Fox, McCrory and Irvine all give smart, authentic performances. They’re a classy troika who would seem at home wandering the halls of Downton Abbey as much as they are navigating Eel Marsh House.
“The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death.”
MPAA rating: PG-13 for disturbing and frightening images, thematic elements.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
Playing: In general release.