[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B007EBZX14][/pullquote] Ghost stories have always been a popular narrative genre in literature dating back as far as you care to remember. We as an audience like to be scared and nothing is more terrifying than the unknown, or int he case of ghost stories the question of ‘What happens to us after we die?’ The Awakening is a British horror film released in 2011, co-funded by BBC Films, StudioCanal, Creative Scotland, Lipsync Productions, Origin Pictures, Eagle Pictures and Scottish Screen. It was made on a modest budget of $6m and is directed by Nick Murphy who also co-wrote it with Stephen Volk. It stars Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton as the principal lead characters.
1921, England and the country is still reeling from the devastating impact of the Great War. Florence Cathcart (Hall) is an educated woman who writes novels and spends her spare time exposing hoaxes and false ghost stories. We are introduced to the character revealing one such hoax. She is then visited by Robert Mallory (West) who informs her that the boarding school that he teaches at is haunted and she has been extended an invitation to come and investigate. Upon arriving at Rookwood school she is met by a fan of her work and the reason she specifically was asked there, Maud (Staunton) who explains the history of the school and the tragedy of a boy who was killed on the grounds a year previous. After investigation, the non-believer Cathcart begins to see things and is panicked into the realisation that either ghosts are real, or she is losing her mind.
The Awakening is a well-told, if flawed ghost story. From the outset, the cinematography is bled down to very dull blueish colours that highlight the sense of isolation, fear and lonliness in each of the characters. In fact the film, rather than focusing on the idea of a spirit encroaching on our sense of space and reality, its more of a study on what is missing in people’s lives. Cathcart’s husband and Mallory’s friends, who all died during the war, act as the characters driving influences and it proves to be an engaging drama/thriller to begin with.
The acting is excellent with all of the leads in fine form. West is convincing as the battle-scarred war-veteran turned school master and Hall is superb as the emotionally damaged protagonist. However the excellent turn comes from veteran Staunton who is the maternal influence on the school and the boys. Her influence is great, even if her character appears scared most of the time. Without her perfermance at its heart, the film would’ve been a mess, but somehow she holds the uneven pacing and predictable scares together.
The Awakening remains creepy and nerve-inducing throughout the first two acts, treading the line between The Shining‘s view of madness and The Sixth Sense‘s constant questioning of the cahracters and their motives. In fact much like The Sixth Sense, The Awakening has a twist at the end, unlike the aforementioned M. Night Shyamalan film however, the final twist is rushed and completely mishandled.