The Awakening is one those films that will find a home as a DVD rather than in a theatrical release, however the film did get a theatrical release in November, but a very short one as the film made a loss, yet The Awakening may recoup some of its loss as it may grow into one of those cult movies.
Rebecca Hall (possibly best known for her performance in Ben Affleck’s The Town) stars as Florence Cathcart who is a well known author famous for proving that supposed supernatural happenings are nothing but hoaxes. Shortly after arriving home from proving another case of ghostly happenings to be a load of bull Florence is visited by Robert Malory (Dominic West, from TV’s The Wire) who, after the death of a student, is convinced that the school he teaches at is haunted by a ghost.
One of the main themes of ghost stories is loss; apparently sprits are most active among those who have lost a loved one recently. Anyway the most recent examples of loss being a central theme is The Women in Black (the film adaptation) and the sensational 2007 Spanish horror film The Orphanage. Loss is again the central theme of Nick Murphy’s The Awakening as the central character, Florence, recently lost a lover in The Great War (which plays a poignant backdrop to the central story). This is the reason why Florence sets out to disprove the idea of ghostly occurrences to convince herself that contact with her former lover is impossible. The very best of ghost stories blend in emotion, scares and proper chills (The Orphanage did this perfectly) and The Awakening does a rather good job at blending in the three, but does a better job on the poignant side of the story rather than the chills and scares.
That’s not to say there are no good scares or chills in The Awakening because there are (the Dolls house is very creepy), however, the film does occasionally slip into a typical haunted house ghost story, but on the positive side the film does not go overboard with the false scares which so many horror films feel the need to do. The first two acts are good, the atmosphere is tense and the story is intriguing and it trots along at a decent pace, yet proceedings are somewhat ruined by the quite ridiculous, contrived ending that makes very little sense. The Awakening is also punctuated by a very shoddily written love affair that is obvious and tedious from the offset (though other dramatic aspects are better written). Thankfully the film’s less than impressive ending and boring love affair is not catastrophic enough to ruin the whole film, but it does take away some of the positive feelings I had for The Awakening, which may be more of a drama/mystery than a horror film when you think about it.
What does bring proceedings up a notch is the fine array of performances, particularly from Rebecca Hall and Dominic West, both Hall and West add some emotional weight to the characters, due to their excellent performances, as both Florence and Robert have been affected by events in The Great War which caused the deaths of those closest to them. Imelda Staunton (best known as Professor Umbridge) is the best known of the supporting cast delivers a fine performance of her own as the slightly creepy housekeeper Maud Hill. Furthermore Eduard’s cinematography is wonderful to look at, there is a wonderful shot of the countryside and lake surrounding the Manderston House (the school in which the ghosts happenings are occurring).
The Awakening can prove to a rather enjoyable, occasionally chilling surprise that works well as both a drama on loss and a horror movie, although it is a tad melodramatic and silly in places, the film overcomes those issues with fine performances and a decent utilisation of the central theme. It is also good to see a film that does not just bring cheap scares to the picture, but attempts to bring something extra, it’s even better when it works. The Awakening is good stuff ruined somewhat by the silly ending – which seems to be the general consensus among critics.