The Awakening (2011)

A rationalist by profession, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) has made a career out of investigating fraudulent spiritualists (aka. all of them), much to the chagrin of both the supposed mediums themselves and those depending on such lies for their own peace of mind. When she is called out to Rookwood, a remote boy’s boarding school based in Cumbria, by resident housemaster Robert Mallory (Dominic West), Florence utilised her usual methods and equipment in the hope of unmasking the student responsible for a set of alleged ghost sightings. With this particular poltergeist eventually proving more elusive than most, however, it might just be that Florence has finally found what she’s looking for.

Film: Much in the same vein as The Others and this year’s The Woman In Black, this stately horror aims to match its genre chills with a quality and dignity that can only be achieved with the right actors. Début director Nick Murphy has accrued an accomplished cast, with the ever-dependable Rebecca Hall taking centre stage as the conflicted sceptic, struggling to come to terms with the death of her fiancée. A respectable, professional woman at a time when such a thing was almost unheard of, she excels as the restrained and reluctant Florence Cathcart. As the true nature of the adolescent apparition begins to unravel through her investigations, she stands strong even as the story itself begins to fall apart.

Florence’s relative novelty (it is 1921, after all) is perhaps best exampled when opposite the equally compelling Imelda Staunton, the school’s matron and Florence’s ever-present admirer, who seems positively giddy by her hero’s presence. Dominic West (of John Carter and TV’s excellent The Hour), meanwhile, brings a stoic resilience to his battle-hardened veteran, Robert Mallory, a man who doesn’t know what to think after the suppressed horror of World War I. Even when the ghost is nowhere to be seen (or felt), the chemistry between these variously damaged characters is enough to keep you planted firmly on the edge of your seat. Like, in some respects, Super 8, it’s almost a shame that the plot has to kick in, as it’s such a pleasure spending time with these characters in what might merely amount to a day at the office.

But kick in it does, and as the momentum begins to gather even the slightest cineliteracy begins to prepare audiences for the various hackneyed clichés open to Murphy as he tries to tie up his assorted loose ends. The film that The Awakening’s setting and subject most resemble is perhaps Guillermo Del Toro’s outstanding The Devil’s Backbone, a comparison that sadly doesn’t stand up. Without wishing to give anything away, the film aims for a resolution that falls somewhere between a shocking twist and a sense of haunting inevitability. In taking it too far, however, the film inadvertently and unfortunately lunges into ridiculousness as the carefully orchestrated and maintained atmosphere is sadly frittered away.

Extras: While both formats offer an insightful audio commentary with writer-director Nick Murphy, a detailed glimpse behind the scenes, an exploration of post-war Britain titled A Time For Ghosts and the film’s trailer, the Blu-ray comes outfitted with a wider range of special features. Among them: an extensive interview with the film’s director addressing his intentions and the complexities of filmmaking; an array of occasionally interesting deleted scenes that were removed for pacing reasons (including a park scene even the director was glad to be rid of); the anatomy of one of the film’s key scenes involving Florence and a lake; a discussion by the film’s cast about their own approaches to the supernatural; and a further Q&A session from BAFTA. The Awakening is yours to own on DVD and Blu-ray from March 26th, 2012.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to The Awakening (2011)

  1. Pingback: March 2012 – Fire all things that go bang! « popcornaddict

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