Horror story which begins as schoolchildren and their teachers are evacuated from London to a deserted house in the remote countryside in World War II.
Ghosts Of War by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The Woman in Black: The Angel Of Death walks the same tightrope that, for me, Hammer’s earlier horror films always seemed to, teetering between genuine shocks and unintentional – hopefully – laughter. A sequel to The Woman in Black (2012) which starred Daniel Radcliffe, the story is again Susan Hill’s, scripted by Jon Croker (story editor on The Woman in Black) and directed by Tom Harper (The Scouting Book for Boys). It’s set 40 years later, during World War II, and in the same deserted house as the original – remote Eel Marsh House at the end of a causeway and cut off at high tide – but it is now uninhabited, semi-derelict and, of course, dark, cold, cobwebby and creepy.
A group of schoolchildren are evacuated from the London Blitz but instead of being billeted with families, they are sent to the big old house with their two teachers – the centre of the story, Eve (a pleasant and capable Phoebe Fox), and martinet headmistress Jean (Helen McCrory). On the train there, Eve gets to know RAF pilot Harry on his way to his nearby aerodrome (an unfeasibly handsome and clean-cut Jeremy Irvine), who befriends her and becomes the only visitor to the house from the outside world. The period atmosphere of the evacuation and the journey is portrayed well, but it’s when they arrive at Eel Marsh House at night that the atmospherics go over the top and everything is murkily shot in muted greys and blues.
Eve takes special care of Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), a child who has just lost both his parents in the Blitz and has stopped speaking – but this makes him susceptible to the spirits who inhabit the malevolent dolls in the disused nursery. All the children start to act strangely; there are unexplained deaths and lots of bangs and crashes. All try to ignore their feeling that a destructive supernatural force is at work. It is gradually revealed that something in Eve’s previous experience links her to the vengeful ghost of the woman in black – who finally makes a brief, almost subliminal, appearance – and the unexplained death of a child in the previous century. It is with faithful Harry’s help – though he has unsuspected secrets of his own – that the children and their teachers are forced to try and win a battle of wills against the woman in black to save their lives.
It’s conventional haunted house horror fare. Though well acted and shot, and set in an interesting period, the story itself seems slight and predictable – or even unbelievable, even within the conventions of a ghost story. Would the children really have been sent to a derelict house – and would they then have stayed there? And why are they what seems to be a class of varying ages? I haven’t seen the first The Woman in Black, but for those who have, focusing as this does on the same supernatural protagonist, but in a not-very-well-executed story, The Woman in Black: The Angel Of Death may seem disappointing.
The Woman in Black: The Angel Of Death is released on 1st January 2015 in the UK