Flawed but genuinely creepy ghost story The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is disappointing, but only because it comes close to greatness. Director Tom Harper and screenwriters Jon Croker and Susan Hill take great pains to get inside the heads of their traumatized protagonists: British civilians who, during WWII, struggle to keep calm and cope privately. But while Harper does often earn visceral scares from creaking floorboards and ink-black shadows, the potent, quiet spell is also periodically broken by gratuitous jump scares.
The sudden (but frequent!) appearance of chalk-white ghosts only distracts from the film’s compelling focus on haunted survivors like Eve (Phoebe Fox), a sensitive young nurse, and Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), one of a dozen orphans Eve and her disciplinarian colleague Jean (Helen McCrory) look after in a secluded — and haunted — country estate.
Harper and his co-creators strive for a sophisticated atmosphere of brooding, psychological dread, and they mostly succeed, employing romantic landscape photography, blessedly well-paced long takes, and surprisingly elaborate sound design.
But The Woman in Black 2 falters whenever Harper tries to relieve tension with cheesy, superficial scares, like when the undead — and unnamed — title character (Leanne Best) randomly appears from off-screen, hangs herself, then vanishes — all in the space of five seconds. That kind of pointless shock tactic makes an engrossing B-movie feel like a major waste of time.