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(2014) (Phoebe Snow, Jeremy Irvine) (PG-13)

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Horror/Thriller: Escaping Germany's bombing of London in 1941, two schoolteachers and eight refugee children must also survive an English countryside estate where a vengeful ghost lives.
In 1941, the Nazis launch a series of seemingly never-ending bombing raids over London, causing much death and destruction. Many parents decide to send their children to live in the English countryside, away from the bombardments. Eve (PHOEBE SNOW) is a young schoolteacher charged with caring for eight such children together with another older and stricter colleague, Jean Hogg (HELEN McCRORY).

Eve takes a liking to Edward (OAKLEE PENDERGAST), a young boy whose parents were killed in the latest bombings just prior to their escape from the British capital. He is mute and communicates only by writing notes and drawing pictures, which causes him to be bullied by one classmate, Tom (JUDE WRIGHT), and snitched on by another, Joyce (AMELIA PIDGEON). At the same time, Eve is attracted to a handsome, yet haunted military pilot named Harry (JEREMY IRVINE), who she shares a train ride with out to the country and who is stationed nearby.

Once at the abandoned estate, Eve immediately suspects that she, Jean, and the children are not alone. A vengeful female ghost seems to be stalking them and has taken a particularly strong interest in Edward. She also has recurring visions and nightmares of a traumatic event from when she was a teenager: giving birth to a child out of wedlock and having the baby taken from her. The evil Woman in Black specter seems to know this and uses it against her.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
For films not screened for the reviewing press, we only provide a few paragraphs of critical analysis.

Personally, I'd rather see a flick in which the Man in Black -- Johnny Cash -- appears as a vengeful specter, haunting a bunch of people who take shelter in an eerie country estate home. They tip-toe through the home, asking "Who's there?" and "What do you want?" And the only response they get from time to time are creepy, raspy refrains of "The Man Comes Around" and "God's Gonna Cut You Down," punctuated by a zombified Cash jumping out every once in a while and shouting lines from the Book of Revelation. That would be freakin' awesome actually!

But, alas, my task is to review "The Woman in Black 2: The Angel of Death," a sequel to the 2012 sleeper hit that starred Daniel Radcliffe as a 19th century widower who runs afoul of an evil spirit eager to exact revenge for the loss of her child. The sequel is set in 1941, and features newcomer Phoebe Snow as Eve, a British schoolteacher and caregiver who is assigned to escort eight young kids out of London to escape the Nazi blitzkrieg bombings. As fate would have it, she takes them to the same creepy countryside mansion where Radcliffe's Arthur first encountered the vengeful Woman in Black decades earlier.

Putting children in jeopardy is, of course, one of the more shameless manipulations Hollywood filmmakers can employ. But Eve is put into plenty of jeopardy, too, as is the hunky, yet haunted British military pilot, Harry (Jeremy Irvine of "War Horse"), she meets on the train ride to Ye Olde Haunted Estate. I appreciated the atmosphere and period setting of "The Woman in Black 2." The problem is the film gives the viewer nothing new. It's just a lot of people skulking around in an old creaky house, idiotically calling out "Hello" to the things that go bump in the night, and periodically being scared by crows flying by from off-screen or someone coming around a corner at a particularly tense time.

The film doesn't feature one standout sequence or innovative plot twist. And I never really invested much emotion or caring into the special bond Eve forms with a mute boy (Oaklee Pendergast) in her charge, who recently lost both his parents to German bombs and is now being targeted by the title villainess. I think Fox has a future ahead of her. She reminded me a little bit of the young Debra Winger crossed with a little Eva Green -- clothed, of course -- for good measure. She holds the screen, even when she is doing dumb horror chick stuff. But there's just not much else here to take away. It walks the line ... when it should be snapping it. I give this a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed January 1, 2015 / Posted January 2, 2015

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