The woman in black 2 angel of death

Hammer’s The Woman in Black (dir James Watkins) was the runaway smash hit of 2012 and it was almost inevitable that a sequel would come along. The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (dir Tom Harper) is set during WWII and is the story of Eve, played by Phoebe Fox, a teacher who, along with her headmistress, (Helen McCrory) is tasked with evacuating a group of school children from London to relative safety in the countryside. The group must stay at the ill-famed Eel Marsh house, but upon arrival, they learn that they are the first group to arrive and will be alone in the house for a week. Eve is drawn to look after one child in particular; Edward, who has recently been orphaned and is so traumatised that he cannot speak. Eve feels connected to him because she has not recovered from the lost her own child upon birth to the authorities. Eve and Jean her headmistress have very different ideas about how to deal with children (Eve is soft and Jean is stern) All of these factors make Eve and Edward extremely susceptible to the effects of the eponymous ‘woman in black’ who, still bitter from the loss of her own son out in the bay, enjoys killing children and snatching their souls just by appearing to them. Needless to say all the evacuee children are in danger.
evacueesAngel of Death’s World War II setting adds to the haunting air created by the beautiful, and atmospheric set design, cinematography and costume. Using the experiences of the evacuees as a backdrop is very interesting and evokes the loneliness and isolation of life in a strange place in the middle of nowhere. Angel of Death keeps true to the period thematically; the women are left on their own to look after the kids in a house with limited resources, the only adult male figure is Dr. Rhodes, (Adrian Rawlins) who was presumably not called up to fight due to his age and job role, and is extremely busy playing his part for the War effort in other ways which, as he explains to Eve at one point is why he is unable to help the women with the repairs of the house. There is, of course, Jeremy Irvine as pilot Harry Burnstow, who is perhaps a little wooden, however, I presume this is intentional as I believe his character represents the ghosts of all the young men who have gone off to War never to return. So although he is a love interest for Eve and a real live character I cannot really count him as a live male figure within the film because he is fated from the first to forever live with his dead flight crew at the bottom of the sea.
WIBAOD_STILL-09.jpgTrauma is a prominent theme in this film. Characters like Jean, who comes from a family of professional soldiers, and the Doctor who has his training find it easier to cope and carry on with everyday life but characters like Eve and Edward, who represent the ordinary civilian population, find it harder to deal with the pressures of War and loss. Harry is so traumatised by the deaths of his crew that he can no longer fly due to his acute fear of water, he has become a shell. Fox gives a brilliantly subtle performance as Eve, who tries to smile through her sadness, suicide is another big theme of the Woman in Black films, and there are a few moments during the film where it is hard to know if Eve (or Harry for that matter) has the will to make it through to the end.
eveAngel of Death has not had quite the commercial success enjoyed by its predecessor, this is likely to be because Fox is a relative unknown and Irvine does not have the same star power as Daniel Radcliffe to pull people in. (Although if you were wondering where you had seen Dr. Rhodes before it is because Rawlins played James Potter, Harry’s father in the Harry Potter films)
Despite the lackluster reviews I personally prefer the classic ‘British ghost story’ atmosphere of Angel of Death. The film is rammed full of hard jump scares, mostly genuine ones too, which keep you glued to the edge of your seat. Angel of Death may not be an earth-shattering horror film, but Hammer consistently produces good quality horror films with a beautiful, classically Gothic aesthetic. Worth a watch.


The quiet ones

q poster
Hammer’s new offering; The Quiet Ones is a 70’s set tale of science vs religion and the perils of sweeping ethics aside in favor of fast results. The film poses questions about what physical and psychological traumas society is willing to put people through in order to find a ‘cure.’
profOxford Professor Joseph Coupland believes telekinetic ability to be a manifestation of mental illness. Jane Harper is all alone in the world, orphaned at a young age she has been shunted from home to home, only for each successive family to decide that there is something inherently wrong with her, (a condition she describes loosely as being dead behind the eyes) until finally she is interned in a mental institution. Joseph believes he can cure her. He and his small team of students; the idealistic and sexually voracious Krissi and Harry, along with Phillip; the bashful cameraman they hire to document proceedings, perform mentally stressful experiments on Jane. Some of these experiments, like the use of loud music to encourage sleep deprivation, annoy the neighbors and put the Professor in hot water with the powers that be at the University who are left unconvinced about the merits of some of the more unsavory aspects of the study. The teams funding is pulled, but Joseph pushes ahead with his ideas in an unofficial capacity, finding a remote country house to use as a base. The more they push Jane the more her pain and anguish can be channeled into her ‘telekinetic’ episodes. Joseph starts to believe that if Jane can purge the manifestation into a doll named Evie then she will be able to leave it behind and be free. But problems arise when they discover that Evie might have different ideas about where to go and what to do once manifest.seance
The Quiet Ones is a film with an interesting topic at its heart; the use of science to prove or disprove the paranormal. The age of enlightenment culminated in Darwin proving his theory of evolution which in turn shattered the notion that God had created the earth in seven days. At the dawn of the 20th Century the scientific community believed itself to be winning the ideological war of reason over religious dogma and superstition, but then an actual War spread across Europe. blith spiritThe First World War brought death to the door of almost every family [1] this created a huge interest in the concept of life after death and whether or not it was possible to contact those who had died. The Seance and the idea of communing with the dead became a popular past time in the inter and post War years, an interest that is reflected in films such as Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944) and Blithe Spirit (David Lean 1945) where the seance is represented as a fashionable way to spend an evening.
The scientific community quickly realised that Paranormal investigation was in many ways the final frontier, the discovery of scientific explanations for ‘ghostly phenomena’ would result in final disapproval of the idea of an afterlife. The 1970s, when The Quiet Ones is set, was a boom period for the popularization of the scientific investigation of the paranormal on both sides of the argument. The film itself is in fact loosely based on a true story of a scientific experiment in which a group of Canadian psychologists [2] ‘invented a ghost’ by putting together a fictional history for a character and then attempting to contact it. The purpose of the experiment was to try to prove that ghostly phenomena are a result of the energy of living humans focused on manifesting the presence that their minds are focused upon. The experiment was allegedly successful with the participants experiencing knocking sounds and witnessing tables moving but unfortunately, they were unable to commit their most compelling evidence to film.
The Quiet Ones makes a nice change from recent Paranormal films like the Paranormal Activity series where characters are quick to unequivocally accept that what is happening to them is supernatural with little investigation of any alternative, (The films can be taken as postmodern in the sense that the only proof needed that something is real is the fact that it can be captured on a shaky camera) and is a nice throwback to films like Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982) where discovery and investigation are an important part of the plot of the film.
Directed by John Pogue, The Quiet Ones is shot with a successfully unrelenting style focused on the use of unusually close framing of its subjects. The locations and set design are very in keeping with the style of a Hammer picture. On the whole, the characters are convincing, especially Jared Harris’s performance as the Professor who is both charismatic and persuasive, but with a chillingly cutthroat edge. As is currently popular loud noise is used to create much of the scary atmosphere, but the use of documentary-style footage works better than in most instances.
janeAnother interesting theme of The Quiet Ones is the idea that sexual frustration is a powerful tool in manifesting Jane’s abilities. Krissi and Harry are a couple, (happy to have sex in earshot of Jane) but Krissi also enjoys secret liaisons with Joseph. Phillip, who in many ways is the protagonist of the film, (in so much as he is impartially voyeuristic and represents the allegiances of the audience) becomes infatuated with Jane and wants to protect her from Joseph. However he is also aware that becoming involved with someone who is so damaged would be unethical, and this dilemma leaves him unable to act. At one point Jane has a dialogue with Phillip where she tells him, while she is topless in the bath, that men exist to tease women who they are unable to touch. Joseph also seems keen to slip in and out of Jane’s room although his purpose is unclear.
The problem with The Quiet Ones is that it ratchets the tension up and up but climaxes too soon leaving the plot nowhere to go, and the audience somewhat unsatisfied. The last third of the film is a bit of a jumble of ideas. There is an interesting back story with a mysterious first patient of Josephs, who appears in some of the most affecting images of the film, and who apparently grew up to reclaim his anonymity. I spent a lot of the film trying to guess who this might be, but in the end, this turned out to be simply a red-herring. hallwayThere were two points on which the actual ending/s fell flat. Firstly, ideas about devil worship were tagged onto the beginning and the end but were never clearly explained, devil worship is the kind of thing you have to go all out for throughout the plot. Lastly, the final scene, the pessimistic ending which is currently de rigueur, feels frustratingly counter-intuitive. If the concept of the experiment was to manifest Evie the pay-off would have been for the audience to see the true face of the monster at the final moment.
Despite the above I still feel that The Quiet Ones is a relative success, and will no doubt also see box office success, it is clear that the filmmakers are trying to explore new themes and ideas as well as giving the audience a joyride which is half the battle these days. Hammer has managed to create a new audience and fan-base for its output and is proving itself to be as relevant today as it ever was, which is also nice to see.

[1] Source for this info is Leeds Wiki:

[2] Source is:

The Woman In Black

On Friday I wandered down to my local cinema with my mate Murray and caught the second showing of the revived Hammer studios new film The Woman in Black. Murray had already joked on the walk over that the auditorium would be packed with screaming teenage Potter fans a notion that I had brushed off, but on entry to the screen (just in time for the Orange ad) we discovered that this was indeed the case. Whenever Daniel Radcliffe appeared on screen the excitement from the back rows was audible. This mildly tainted my enjoyment of the film, as on a personal level I find it hard to feel scared when viewing a film with large numbers of (giggling) people. Others, on the other hand, enjoy this shared atmosphere of opening weekend horror movies, and I admit that I was happy to hear the loud screams of my fellow audience members for a homegrown British horror, which brings me onto the film itself.
Hats off to Hammer for managing to do the inexplicable and produce a horror film that is on one level a gore-free, completely inoffensive, almost family friendly 12A film, but on another level genuinely chilling, seat grippingly terrifying, thoroughly modern, and yet nostalgically classical horror. This is also the first of the new Hammer films that I have seen that I think can be described as a Hammer film in the truest sense (fitting in with its previous canon of films) Let Me In. and The Resident both felt very American, in style not just in location, whereas The Woman in Black is unashamedly British in both regards. The film is very modern in style but manages to create a continuity with Hammer’s past through its use of themes and iconography. Back once more are the unfriendly locals, the rolling fog banks, the religious iconography, and the muddy graveyards, only this time the scenery is stomped through by the fresh-faced Daniel Radcliffe.
And now a brief summary of the plot. Daniel Radcliffe’s wife has died in childbirth, this event leaves him so distraught that his work evidently suffers, and now, a few years on, he is given an ultimatum by his employer that he must travel to a remote coastal village and spend the weekend sorting out the papers of a deceased clients estate before returning or he will lose his job. Sounds simple enough? However, when Radcliffe arrives in the village he finds that the locals, including the local solicitor who is supposed to help him, want him to go straight back where he came from. Even worse the house he needs to visit is on an island surrounded by dangerous marshes that can only be reached by a causeway when the tide is out. He soon discovers that the house is haunted by a mysterious woman in black, and the consequences of seeing her are grave indeed for the residents of the local village. But not only is Radcliffe tapped in the house for long periods by the tide, but he is trapped by the knowledge of what will become of his son if he leaves without completing his work for the firm.
Although I was not scared per se, as I am notoriously hard to scare nowadays, I did find that the film had a suitably creepy atmosphere and some nail-biting set pieces. The child’s playroom with the rocking chair was enough to give anyone nightmares. The other people in the theatre were thoroughly terrified from start to finish, including Murray who was gripping my arm from about a third of the way in. The Woman in Black is a very, beautiful, atmospheric, highly enjoyable, and well-made film and I thoroughly recommend it.