Hammer’s 2012 film adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black marked the legendary studio’s return to major league filmmaking.
The casting of Daniel Radcliffe helped the film dominate the UK and international box office, eventually taking £127m and becoming the highest-grossing British horror film in decades.
The studio subsequently had more muted success with the tragically under rated The Quiet Ones and is now back with an all new tale of deathly hauntings in The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.
Jon Croker’s screenplay, adapted from an original story by Hill, moves the story on from Victorian England to the second world war and sees Eel Marsh House converted into a refuge for London school children fleeing the German air raids.
The evacuees are led by young schoolteacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), a woman with a hidden past that is soon used against her by the titular spectre as she investigates the increasingly mysterious behaviour of her pupils.
She’s joined in her investigations by local airman Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), a man harbouring his own dark secrets, and hard-headed head teacher Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory) who is determined to downplay any supernatural explanation for the tragedies that quickly befall the group.
Of the three leads, it’s Fox who shines best as the plucky, headstrong Eve and it’s pleasing to see Hammer make space for a strong female lead after two films dominated by men.
The studio deserves credit both for not rushing Angel of Death out immediately after the huge success they enjoyed with the first film, and for telling a story which is so distinct from the original.
However the lack of returning cast and characters means the audience initially knows far more about the house and its persistent occupant than our heroes.
Croker’s screenplay works hard to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible without making things too contrived, but it’s still a bit of a wait for them to catch-up with the audience’s prior knowledge.
That said, I found the initial patience required was richly rewarded with a intelligent and atmospheric tale which dares to do more than simply rehash the events of the original and delivers the right amount of scares and thrills.