The Awakening (2011)
(15) Running time: 107 mins
Reviewed by: David Gillespie, official HCF artist
Following on from the chillers, The Others, The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage comes The Awakening, an impressive debut feature from Nick Murphy and co-written by Stephen Volk (creator of the classic Halloween terror special, Ghostwatch). Although debatable as to whether this latest entry to the genre is as strong as it’s contemporaries, the young director has brought a collection of old and new tricks to the table.
The story is set in England, 1921 and and an epidemic of influenza is eating away at an already threadbare population decimated by the destruction caused during World War 1. The audience is introduced to Florence (Rebecca Hall), a headstrong author and debunker of rogue spiritualists. During an impressive opening sequence that would make Velma Dinkley very proud indeed, she rumbles a team of con merchants that are using grieving mothers to their financial advantage. Florence does not gain any comfort or triumph from her discovery and appears emotionally exhausted after the revelation. It seems that there is something eating away at her from her past that is plunging her deeper into her work.
Enter Robert Mallory (Dominic West), a intense and troubled school teacher from Rockwood Boarding School for Boys. He explains that the pupils are scared (sometimes to death) by a young ghoul that frequents the creaking corridors, halls and dark places of the old building. He wants Florence to help discover the truth, a task that she cynically and grudgingly accepts. On her arrival to the Cumbrian school, Robert introduces her to a list of potential suspects, including Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton), an eccentric but caring matron. During their first meeting, the young author is a little perturbed regards Maud’s overenthusiastic backing to her cause. A backing that is certainly not forthcoming from the creepy handyman, Edward (Joseph Maul) and sick English teacher, Malcolm (Shaun Dooley). By nightfall, the traps and devices are set to reveal the ghost or culprit. Maud stares miserably into her mirror and Robert contorts uncontrollably in his small room as he fights his own demons and guilt from the horrors of the trenches. Unfortunately for Florence, this is a case that might attack the one vunerable aspect of her armour and that is her tragic past.
The Awakening has much more going for it than against. It probably resembles the theme and setting of 1995 chiller, Haunted than any of the other mentioned films of this genre and betters this effort on a artistic and technical level.
The setting is perfect for a ghost story. It is not long before our heroinne is insvestigating bumps, creaks and moving shadows around the sprawling interiors of the school. Murphy might steal a couple of camera shots and scare tactics used before but he is still capable of making it seem fresh and exciting. One ingenius use of a model of the school is used in a geniunely frightening setpiece. Special mention should also be used for the attention to detail regards Florence’s array of ghost catching tools. There is something fascinating about these dated but beautifully crafted gadgets and the middle act is certainly where the film as at it’s most impressive.
Rebecca Hall is a revelation as the tenacious but vunerable author. Having dropped out of the limelight for a number of years after her role in Christopher Nolan’s, The Prestige, she comes back with a bang in this leading role. Not only is she a stunning looking woman with presence on the big screen but her journey into confusion and despair is more believable than the plot holes that start to appear with the story. Dominic West is solid, if not remarkable, as the love interest and Imelda Staunton is impressive as ever in a role that could have been laughable if portrayed by a lesser actress.
The effects that are incorporated to portray the spirit, or person mimicking the spirit, are effective enough. They are used sparingly and resemble the spook that featured in A Ghost Story (1981).
The main problem with the movie is that it does become a little obvious as to where the journey is leading to. It splutters it’s way towards the final destination as if running on gas fumes and could have been a little more powerful if it avoided the overuse of melodramatic strategies. However it does achieve in it’s efforts to pack an emotional punch thanks to the hard work of a highly capable group of actors. The Awakening is a daft but enjoyable, ripping yarn with a few geniune chills peppered throughout it’s running time.
[pt-filmtitle]The Awakening (2011)[/pt-filmtitle]