I can’t say I’m a huge fan of The Woman In Black remake, but it must be said that the 2012 version did it better. That film had its problems, but it was cohesive and creepy in a way that the sequel just isn’t. Angel of Death tried to twist a ghost story into a morality tale about the crippling power of fear and depression, but couldn’t quite make the themes stick in the end.
The sequel takes place forty years after the original, and Eel Marsh House is still standing. Still haunted, too. Unfortunately, it’s the only place for a group of English schoolchildren to take refuge from the German bombers. In the beginning there was a lot of tension between the feeling that various characters have that something is really wrong with the house, and their inability to go anywhere else – they literally have no other options.
Except then it turns out they do? Invalidating the whole reason for being there in the first place.
The main characters are Eve, a young teacher, her older and more cynical coworker, Harry, a pilot stationed at the nearby Air Base, and Edward, a mute and traumatized boy whose parents were killed in the bombing. Then, of course, we have the Woman In Black, lingering behind the scenes in her mourning garb and luring children to their deaths in the eerie marshes surrounding the house.
But for a film that’s trying to say something about the experiences of women, Angel of Death really doesn’t seem to understand them. Furthermore, I really couldn’t accept that a woman with Eve’s experiences, who had gone through the medical system and knew exactly how she would be treated, would try so hard to convince everyone that the house was haunted. This happens a lot in horror films, and I feel that this ought to be said: women are not stupid. Women have never been stupid. Women of that era especially knew very well what would happen if you were labeled “crazy” or hysterical. Even if Eve always believed the house was haunted – as is the case – I can’t accept that she wouldn’t find another excuse to get everyone out. Especially in that era, there were real and dangerous consequences for doing anything that could get you labeled “crazy.”
Which is really indicative of the larger problem with this movie. Angel of Death wants to talk about women and versions of motherhood, but doesn’t have anything interesting or even helpful to add to the discussion. From the moment she’s introduced, Eve is presented as dutiful and mothering. More than once, she’s mistaken for the mother of the children she is looking after. We later learn that the great tragedy of her life is that she had a child out of wedlock, and that child was taken away from her. This defines her life. She is obsessed with that tragedy, and with being a mother to her students.
And…that’s all we learn about her character. Nothing in the film happens to her that is not somehow related to being a mother. That is literally her entire character arc. This isn’t limited to Eve, either. All of the other female characters are defined by their relationship to children, and their perceived skill at motherhood. I would have been okay with a horror film that wants to look at motherhood (The Babadook did an excellent job of that), but only if it also takes care to present the women as whole characters, with lives and traits unconnected to children. Angel of Death does not.
The movie has its moments of quiet character development, and acknowledges that people have vastly different – but equally sound – ways of dealing with trauma. Depression and PTSD are strong themes throughout the story, and interpreted in different ways. I think the movie was trying to present Eve and the Woman In Black as foils, both consumed by the tragic loss of a child to the point where they have lost every other part of their identity; they have become that tragic thing. There is nothing left inside them except that sadness and resentment. That being said, Angel of Death hit a wall with that metaphor with its unwillingness to portray Eve as anything but saintly. If she was supposed to be compared to the Woman In Black, then some of her darker moments should have been explored. And she did have a few, let’s be clear. Her clinginess and emotional manipulation of an eight-year-old, for one thing, rang more alarm bells for me than they apparently did for the movie. Furthermore, none of these characters evolve past their traumas: Eve becomes a “good” mother and thus loses her depression, but that’s all she is. A mother. An uncomplicated stock trope with no other path except to care for her child, and no other interests to boot.
And as for the Woman In Black?
Well. Let’s just say the sequel ended just like the first one. The bad guy wins. And nothing changes. The entire journey was for naught. We end exactly where we began.
Visually, the film simply isn’t up to par with the 2012 remake. There are some interesting shots of the marsh and graveyard, plus the ending scene at the airfield, but the director hasn’t figured out how to make interesting shots in nearly complete darkness – which the majority of the film takes place in – and the house just isn’t compelling enough to use as a set piece more than once. I enjoyed the opening of the film, which took place in a bomb shelter and used the darkness to trick the audience into confusing the sound of an air raid with the rhythmic thumping of a heartbeat. It was subtle and creepy and set up the mood nicely. It also displayed a subtlety absent from the majority of the film.
Angel of Death tries, but it just isn’t a good movie. Watching it try and fail to talk about women in a realistic way was groan-inducing. It tries, sure, but it fails pretty damn hard. Skip it