In the wide world of sequels that certainly don't have any actual reason to exist, one could do a lot worse, conceptually speaking, than The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death - though that title! There's absolutely nothing that mouthful achieves that wouldn't be more accurately and clearly covered by just plain The Woman in Black 2. But anyway, the sequel to the 2012 ghost story The Woman in Black has the good sense to leave that film's cast entirely alone, and with a perfectly fine Edwardian-era haunted house that nobody in the surrounding village wants to go near, it was as easy as pie to skip forward a few decades to find it still squatting there, grim and rotting, for a pair of London schoolteachers and band of refugee children to shelter there during the Blitz. This is, I am inclined to think, the most characteristically Hammer-esque touch in this latest production by the resurgent Hammer Films. It is also the only halfway decent idea to be found anywhere within Jon Croker's script, so there's that.

The glow of that one right choice does linger for a bit, though, and the opening sequence, in 1941 London, is a pretty terrific re-creation of the period in all its tightly-circumscribed panic, for a shlocky horror movie. Hell, given the movie this is, and given the people making up its target audience, I'm downright impressed by how unapologetically it throws us into the setting without bothering to explain the context or history. All we get are Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), a young woman who teaches under the command of the strict headmistress Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory), and the two of them are in a hurry to get their seven charges off to the rural village of Crythin Gifford. Make that eight charges, since in the previous night's bombing, little Edward (Oaklee Pendergast) lost both of his parents, and is now joining Hogg's band, complete with a shellacked, post-traumatic lack of expression and refusal to speak. This is about the point where the movie uses up all its sense of place and war-era imagery, and no longer can pretend that it's any good in any way.

After arriving by train to Crythin Gifford late at night, the grumbling local do-gooder Dr. Rhodes (Adrian Rawlins, star of the 1989 Woman in Black telefilm) roughly informs the women that the only available lodging is the sprawling mansion on the outskirts of town, Eel Marsh House. Though to be honest, I'm not sure if it's named such. One thing that Angels of Death cannot be accused of is too much exposition on behalf of the viewers who might not have bothered with the first movie, and that goes from setting the stage - the important fact that Eel Marsh House is on the far side of a causeway that disappears during high tide is used during a tension-raising scene without have actually been established - all the way to the meat of its story, which uses the mythology of the titular woman (Leanne Best) that was explained the first time without really bothering to go over it all again, so a great deal of what happens is inexplicable far beyond the normal kind of cryptic events to be found in horror movies. And I cannot help but appreciate that economy of storytelling; but if a film is going to depend so completely on the viewer's knowledge of the first movie in order to make sense as a narrative object, it feels like a cheat to then have the content of the sequel be a re-hash of all the same setpieces from the last time around, in a slightly different order.

In fact, just about the only thing that The Woman in Black did that Angel of Death fails to repeat was to include a single protracted haunting sequence uninterrupted by plot or even dialogue. That was basically the only thing that hauled the first movie across the fine line dividing "derivative storytelling and tacky-looking ghosts on an absurdly over-designed set" from "derivative storytelling that has a really fucking kickass centerpiece that ends up making the whole movie a worthwhile experience". Absent that - and there really isn't even a feint in that direction - the sequel reveals just how threadbare the whole affair is, cobbling together ghost story clichés into a framework where it feels like a third of the scenes are missing: not just the ones explaining the backstory from the first movie, but more prosaic matters like, how does Eve go from riding into town with the hunky pilot (Jeremy Irvine) to poking around in a derelict basement all by herself? Meanwhile, the scenes that are present are trite muddles, doling out tragic backstories for two of the three adult characters with more than two scenes of screentime, and wandering away from the central action in a way that makes it clear that the filmmakers have no sense of what any of the characters are doing when they're not onscreen.

Tom Harper, the director, tries to keep this stitched together more or less by marching through reasonably well-timed jump scares at a steady pace, but even if it worked, that would feel like a cheap substitute for atmosphere and a real sense of the decaying dread that Eel Marsh House is meant to evoke. And for that, Harper and his cinematographer, George Steel, would need to abandon their weird hang-up about overlighting to make sure we can see everything clearly, even when story context - or just plain basic visual continuity - demand murkier blacks.

The film feels composed out of almost nothing but half-measures and recycled ideas, and the result is worse than terrible: it's astoundingly mediocre and plodding. The surprisingly good cast provides something that resembles life - Fox has a terrific sweet, plucky screen presence, and I'm very eager for her to get a better part in a more functional story - and I rather admire the way that the art team (the production designer is Jacqueline Abrahams, the supervising art director is Andrew Munro) aged the garish sets from the first movie into something still more ominous and rundown, but for the most part, Angel of Death is such a slack, by-the-numbers haunted house story that it's not even up to the task of being bad.