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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



The Woman in Black, 2—Angel of Death, Review: Hammer misses the nail

The Woman in Black, 2—Angel of Death, Review: Hammer misses the nail

The Woman in Black, 2: Angel of Death (TWIB 2,-AOD) is made by the same production team behind the original Woman in Black, with a screenplay by Jon Croker, said to be based on Susan Hill's novel. There is a book called The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, but it is a novelisation of the film by crime writer Martyn Waites, from Jon Croker’s screenplay. So the sequel does not owe anything to the original. Version I, The Woman in Black, was directed by James Watkins and starred Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe. It went on to become one of the biggest hits ever in the horror genre, thanks, in no small measure, to the non magical outing of young heart-throb Radcliffe.

Flashback to Part I: A Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford--a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway--to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow, of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow's house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images--a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly ‘woman in black’.

That was forty years before Part II: As bombs rain down on London during the Blitz of World War II, Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) joins her schoolchildren and the school's headmistress, Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory), to evacuate them to the countryside town of Crythin Gifford. On the journey there, Eve meets dashing pilot, Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), who is stationed at an airfield near Crythin Gifford. Eve has a terrible nightmare of how she was forced to give up her baby when she was younger, and when she awakens, she can hear the noise of a rocking chair coming from the house cellar. There, she finds a message, which she believes has been left for her, scolding her for letting her child go. She also sees the figure of a woman dressed in black in the corner of the room, but she vanishes before Eve can reach her. And then, one by one, the children start dying, in mysterious circumstances.

Director Tom Harper’s debut feature, The Scouting Book for Boys, was a dark tale, telling the story of a teenage boy and his obsessive love for the girl next door at a caravan park. Jaws was the first horror film that left a big impression on Harper. He said he was so scared that he couldn’t even go to the toilet. There are scary moments in TWIB2-AOD, and the setting is well captured, both the railway station and the deserted manor. But then these elements are de rigueur for this genre. He manages to extract some fine performances from a couple of children, but overall, the film flatters to deceive, delivering much less than what it promises. As is often the case in horror films, the motivation for the spook and its heinous acts seem over the top. One can argue that ghosts cannot be expected to behave logically, though this can open-up an endless debate. Some tracks, like the attacks of the mad man on the protagonist and her wards, have been explained, but you will need to read the synopsis in details to understand what’s going on. On screen, it is just incoherent raving and ranting.

Phoebe Fox and Jeremy Irvine as the lead couple provide some warm moments, Helen McCrory is convincingly stiff upper-lip, while the rest of the cast generally fills the bill.

It is amazing that a company set-up in 1934 is still active. Well past its glorious years, 1935-75, horror giant Hammer Films has seen a minor revival in the new millennium. TWIB, 2-AOD fails to hit the nail on the head, though.

Rating: **


The Woman in Susan Hill

The author of the most celebrated ghost story of modern times, The Woman in Black – which has sold millions of copies worldwide, been staged in the West End for 25 years, and was made into two films– says she does not believe in ghosts as such. But she has a powerful sense of the uncanny. Hill, has left her husband, the Shakespearean scholar Professor Stanley Wells, after 38 years of marriage. The couple sold their farmhouse in the Cotswolds where they had raised their two daughters. She has moved in to a house in north Norfolk with Barbara Machin, the highly successful television scriptwriter, who also used to live in Gloucestershire. “Susan split up with Stanley before she moved house,” claims one of the award-winning novelist’s friends. “It is very sad, but their marriage could not survive.” Machin, who created and produced the BBC crime drama Waking the Dead, is understood to have met Hill, 71, when she took on the job of turning another of her ghost stories, The Small Hand, into a BBC television drama. She is also adapting Hill’s crime fiction series, Serrailler, for ITV. Hill was appointed CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2012.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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