Friday, August 28, 2015

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)

The first Woman in Black movie with Daniel Radcliffe was an excellent real estate ad for those looking to buy old English country homes. The movie itself was a contest by the filmmakers to see how long they could stay awake during endless scenes of Radcliffe walking around in the dark with nothing happening. I guess that description sounded good to somebody, because now we have the sequel, Angel of Death.

Director: Tom Harper
Starring: Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine

Co-written with Michelle.

This one is set in World War II, and sure, there was a war going on, kids were in the trenches fighting for their lives and there were unspeakable horrors going on at the concentration camps, but hey, we NEED to focus on this silly haunted house ghost story right now! That's amazing to me. You could do anything – it's a fucking period piece – but instead, we just get the same stuff we're used to from movies set in the plain old modern day. "But they set THIS one in the 40s!" Well, okay. It must be better then.

I mean, surely there were no better story ideas? How about a bunch of soldiers come across a house and stay there for shelter during a storm? Maybe a wounded or discharged officer trying to cope with the war AND the ghost? Nah. We really need another bullied loner kid story and a cliché romantic subplot! That's really original, guys!

On the plus side, it does work as a sleep aid – Michelle actually told me it worked for her that way after the movie ended.

The movie begins with a bombing in London during World War II. Gee, I have never actually seen a movie start off with such an accurate description of how it did at the box office.

Then we get our main character, a woman named Eve Parkins taking a bunch of kids to this house on an island to keep them safe. She is introduced to Edward, whose parents died in the bombings, and who now wears the permanent expression of sorrow more fitting for a kid who's just realized his acting career won't be helped by starring in this.

His loss of his parents could be a positive thing, if he spins it and becomes English WWII Batman. That would actually be awesome. Much more awesome than this movie.

They go to this old house, which gives us more of the movie's favorite thing ever – showing us the house as if we have the option to come to the open house next Tuesday. It's not a very good real estate agent though, as rather than warm and inviting, we just get a broken down house with everything ruined. Thanks for nothing, guys!

"Ugh, the LIGHTS aren't even on?! Worst open house ever."

It turns out the movie did find one use for the World War II setting – pseudo-intellectual dialogue that doesn't really reveal anything insightful about the characters or story or even, really, the times. But what would we do without characters talking about how strong they need to be to survive, which is something that could be from literally any time and any situation? Aren't there better ways to develop characters? Nah. Just throw bullshit hollow platitudes in and call it a day. Back to our bland supernatural lobotomy-fuel horror!

Most of the first hour is just boring as fuck. It's all played out scenes of Edward, who is silent, withdrawn and likes drawing pictures, being bullied by the other kids. Sure, like one girl is sort of nice to him, but even she's just doing the bare minimum any character does in these sorts of movies – every once in a while she'll call out for them to stop being so mean. Whoop-de-fucking-do.

"Teacher, can't we get one decent line or some kind of identifiable character trait?"
"NO!!! As punishment for asking that, you must write I have been a bad child 100 times on the blackboard!"

I mean, I guess we could have had actually well written dialogue for the kids that made you like them, and actually treated them like human beings. Whoa there, bucko, don't get TOO progressive on us there!

There's nothing overly annoying about most of this stuff, but they just do so little with their story. It's like having the ingredients to make a really great five-star cuisine, but then just settling for McDonalds for dinner instead, out of laziness and convenience.

But hey, at least we have a bunch of jump scares! Shitty ones! Ones where you see a glimpse of some Grudge-style white-faced ghost and then the character turns around and sees nothing! Give me a hip, hip, hooray for that!

….Guys? GUYS?!

Oh well. The film trudges on as we see Eve has a tragic past that can easily be explained in a short flashback complete with clich̩ orangey colors and slow music. Apparently she had a baby and since she wasn't married, the hospital took it away from her Рthat's really all we get.

This is almost a scary scene. You're closer to hot than to cold. But this is the closest you'll get, I'm afraid. Sad...

It's a story, I'll give them that – but that doesn't mean they did much with it. They didn't really do anything. It's the equivalent of a guy winning the lottery and spending the money incrementally on the same stuff he bought at CVS every day before he won. Complete waste of time.

But at least we have another backstory scene as Mr. Pilot Man, whose name I suppose is actually Harry, stops the car with Eve just to tell her his sob story about how he was a coward in the war and left his buddies to die. This character constantly has a deer-in-headlights look, like he has been locked in a room his whole life waiting for a Pantene commercial that he's been specially bred to star in. So I can believe he's a World War II pilot if I stretch my disbelief far enough!

They find one of the bully kids dead in the thorns outside in the morning, which I guess is really the point when they start to ask questions.

...Or it would be in a movie that had any logical sense. But in this movie, it's just another thing that happens – nobody really questions it or has a big reaction. I guess you could argue they figured that kid just wandered outside and died accidentally – but even then, nobody really seems to care. That child's death is just glossed over like nothing. I realize these kids have all the personality of a pack of playing cards left out in the rain, but that's not THEIR fault – that's the writers' fault at Satan's Movie Studio.

The movie rolls slothfully along, with some more random jump scares and some scenes with scary toys that should have probably been removed by now. But we needed some dismally small attempt to scare the audience, so it's pandering time on a level usually reserved for four year olds watching Barney the Dinosaur. If you think this is scary, you probably shouldn't go Trick or Treating this year; you'll probably have a heart attack.

It's scary because that stuff was found in an abandoned toy factory and ominous lighting was put on it. OoooOOoooohhh...

Eve, meanwhile, gets locked underground with a zombie version of this one doctor character from earlier. He blabbers on about some prophetic sounding nonsense, and once she gets out, she realizes she has to take the kids away from the house, putting together the clues from the nonsense that ghost was mumbling about. Because she is the type of teacher who lets supernatural ghosts and ghouls guide her decisions. Today, they would probably call her crazy and fire her for this, but in the 1940s, she was just being a good teacher.

"You look like a credible person that I should listen to!"

So they recruit Mr. Pilot Coward Man Harry to take them off the island, which he does – he takes them to the greatest place possible, a decoy airfield used to make the enemy bomb them during the war. That sounds like an amazing place to hide a bunch of scared children, doesn't it? Take them on a field trip there, pop open a bottle of wine. Why not?

I also love the contrived romantic scene we get here - Harry reveals that he had been making up a lot of his stories about being a pilot, and that he never made it out of training. Eve's response to this is to kiss him right there. Which just goes to show you - cowardice and lying gets you chicks.

Harry shows off his true nature when the place gets bombed like, a few hours after they arrive (great place to take kids, remember?!), and Edward tries to run back to the island. Harry tries to save him, but pusses out at the last second and instead goes back to the bunker like the weak-ass bitch he is. It would be one thing if we saw the conflict of his character doing this. But this is his face when he's telling Eve about how Edward was lost:

Amazing. The heartbreak is achingly obvious. I feel for this man in a way I've never felt for a movie character.

Truly heart-rending.

Anyway, Eve decides Edward is still alive, and so she goes back to the island and the old house. This results in an extra endurance round of 'boring scenes of searching the house while sad music plays,' where nothing is accomplished except for padding this movie out some more. It's only an hour and forty minutes, but goddamn, does it drag like a deflated wet balloon across a hot blacktop.

The movie also seems to think that rocking chairs are scary. A lot of these kinds of movies do this - see also Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring - they all do this scare. Why? Did a rocking chair traumatize the writers when they were young?

While looking out a window, she sees Edward walking on the frozen marsh toward this giant cross thing sticking out. She somehow makes it out of there super fast, and runs to him, but they both sink into the water. Fortunately, Harry the Pilot Man comes to save them, jumping into the water and helping to pull them out of a pile of corpses. He sacrifices himself in doing this, and they bid him farewell as he slowly dies underwater.

"Bbbrbrrgggbbb.... I knew I should have just gone back to the mainland and started telling women that I saved these two instead of actually doing it! That would have been in line with my character and also kept me alive!"

So, wait a second. Pause the movie. This represents him finally having the balls to do something brave – all movie long and even in his backstory, he's been a coward who survives only by running away when things get tough. Now, he finally does something brave – and HE DIES INSTANTLY the second he does so! What kind of message is that? Clearly, he should have stuck to being a coward, as that was the best way to stay alive.

I guess that ends the whole thing, as we then see that Eve and Edward now live together and Edward is on his way to becoming a normal kid. I mean okay, there IS that one moment where a picture is shattered on his desk, which might allude to the ghost still being around:

But I think that's just proof that picture frames were in short supply during the war, and this one was just poorly made craftsmanship. I turn up my nose at your shoddy handiwork!

Overall, this was lame. No good character, a story that's been done a thousand times over, and no good scares. The settings, like the first one, are nice – but they rarely use them to their full potential. You can tell they're trying to go for atmosphere, but the movie just shoves your face in these long, dull scenes of the characters walking around in the house – atmosphere can only take you so far. You need something else aside from a creepy setting – I know this might be an unrealistic expectation for a modern horror flick, but how about an actual scary scene? How about trying that?

No? Oh well. I can't wait for the third movie set in the 2000s with a bunch of partying college frat bros staying at the house on a dare. Come on, you know that's what they'll do.

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