I like ghost stories, especially stories that stem from a certain period. I actually like them a little more than actual horror films. Granted, most ghost stories have that way of turning things towards the unexpected, despite the fact that it follows certain pathways in the script that may feel too familiar. I suppose the best way to approach a ghost story is to allow oneself to get immersed in its atmosphere and to pay heed in what it is trying to express. “The Awakening” is a British film directed by Nick Murphy, that oftentimes feel a little too familiar. I can accept an unoriginal concept as long as it is done right, as long as the execution exerts a certain confidence that can make one forget that a film is something they’ve seen before. Such a film is “The Awakening”.
The film’s set up is something we’ve seen before. The film takes place after WWI and after the Influenza epidemic had caused a significant number of casualties in England. There came a large number of fraudulent so-called ‘mediums’ to take advantage of the people’s grief and this is where author-ghost investigator-fraud catcher Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is called to investigate a death in an all-boys boarding school which was supposedly caused by a ghost. Florence has been regarded as a levelheaded, judicious professional that she had aided the police with investigations. The film does not waste time in allowing the viewer to see just how much of a professional she really is; the opening act and the way she navigates the school grounds with her ’paranormal tools’ , one could easily see that she has a knack for identifying charades and she never panics, even when faced with alarming situations.
Now, we all know the drill. An atheist-investigator comes to a place where she then experiences things that make her question certain things about what she had always believed. “Ghosts are not real” but what happens when one starts to question the laws of rationality? “The Awakening” is a film that is enveloped in mystery, and rather than paying more attention to subtle jump scares, bumps and noises in the night and just how the children react to such a situation, the film focuses on the depths of Cathcart’s personality and the characters that revolve around her.
I do have to say that most of the film’s set pieces reminded me of “The Devil’s Backbone” and “The Orphanage". The style of its cinematography and the way the ‘chills’ were delivered in a subtle way had “The Others” stapled all around them, and yet I was able to look past them, as the mystery enveloping this boarding school took precedence rather than what could’ve been expected. The sequences were all about its mood, as the camera follows Florence around the rusty, creaky hallways, stairways and old rooms in this structure. The direction does not even try to window-dress what he was trying to do, he embraces the familiarity of the interiors and creep factor, knowing full well that the film was more about its characters and the development of its mystery. The script manages to keep almost everything within arm’s length and yet, it never keeps things too close, and knew exactly when to draw back to try and keep its viewers’ bedazzlement.
The film is magnificently shot. The way the film had that grainy, rough look around its atmosphere added a lot of personality in the flow of its screenplay. The daytime scenes looked very gloomy that it was the expression as to how the light can hide something in the night. When the night time scenes hit, the room to room expositions and voyeuristic snooping through the walls gave the scenes such artful cinematography that the familiar jolts and scare tactics did not bother me. Yeah, those little bumps did well developing the characters, as most of them were viewed from a skeptic’s eyes. There is something here to be said for its sense of restraint, as it wasn’t as aggressive in dealing out its scares such as in “The Woman in Black”.
Rebecca Hall does a fabulous job in the lead role. I would have to say that she is the film’s most compelling trait. The way she dealt with the character’s need to deal with her fear, she allows her resolute character become strong and then slowly weaken. She is the kind of investigator that stalks, never ever giving in to the illogical, and yet she has this hopeful resolve to find out the truth. Her character is somewhat entrenched in personal conflict as she grieves for her deceased soldier-husband. One could actually feel the longing for attention, possibly why she connected with a war veteran turned teacher, Robert (Played by Dominic West). The snoopy and yet helpful housekeeper, Maud (played by Imelda Staunton) and rifle-toting groundskeeper, Edward (Joseph Mawle) gave the boarding school a personality that was vital in rounding up its narrative.
Despite the fact that I liked the film’s structure in executing its script, I do have to admit that I may need to see it again, since it is enveloped in a lot of foreshadowing that made me ask a few questions. I cannot comment as to how certain scenes could’ve been omitted to make its pacing a little faster, since I became enveloped in its last act. The way the film made the thoughts of the irrational become a struggle as it slowly became a substantial catharsis for Florence. I know, one may say that it had a familiar feel to everything it had wrought, “A Tale of Two Sisters” did come to mind, but not in the way that one may think. I thought that the way it enshrouded the climax in ambiguity was ingenious and it may get several viewers to watch it over and over again.
Those who don’t like being in a familiar mood and tempo may not like the film, but if one allows a lot of room for accepting its mystery, then it becomes a film worth seeing. Not sure, I would like to fully recommend it, but I know it may not be the kind of film that may be for everyone. It is the kind of film that knowing what you are in for would be a benefit, and yet knowing less about it would even be beneficial. Its feeling of familiarity kept me from giving it a really strong rating, but the atmosphere, the handling of its mystery, the superb performance by Hall and the way it practiced restraint in the ’jump chills’ earns it a Recommendation. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
Star Rating: The Awakening plays it safe as far as supernatural thrillers go, providing audiences with such reliable hallmarks as a melodramatic plot, an ending with several twists, and plenty in the way suspense and shocks. That it’s unoriginal, there can be no question. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the skill that went into it. It is, above all, an incredibly good-looking film; the atmosphere is one of perpetual gloom, the sun shrouded by gray … more