The Awakening

Posted: April 2, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Nick Murphy, starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton.

I really wanted to see this film when it came out last year, but unfortunately it came and went within the space of about a week and so I missed it. Now released on DVD I took the opportunity to rent it so I could finally take a look.

It’s 1921, three years after the end of the First World War and Spanish Flu, and a time when people are more interested in the afterlife than ever, and Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a noted debunker of mediums, ghosts and all manner of other supernatural chicanery.

Florence doesn’t believe in ghosts, but it’s clear she wants to. After helping the police to arrest a bogus swami, she’s approached by Robert (Dominic West) a teacher at a remote boarding school. He wants her to investigate the supposed ghost of a boy that’s haunting the school, a ghost that may have already scared one of the pupils to death.

Florence agrees, and soon after her arrival she thinks she’s solved the mystery, but when most of the boys head home for the holidays things take a dark turn, and suddenly Florence has to deal with the fact that everything she believes in might be wrong.

Like the Woman in Black this is a good old fashioned haunted house story. It doesn’t rely on special effects, or excessive gore, and is all the more chilling for it. There are plenty of creepy moments, and in particular one stand out scene that sent shivers down my spine relies on nothing more than a doll’s house.

I had heard that how much you enjoyed the film depended on your suspension of disbelief at the end, and this had worried me, but all I’ll say is that the twist isn’t anywhere near as crass as I was expecting after all the hoo-hah. Is it a stretch, perhaps, but plenty of classic films pull similar reveals, and we are dealing with the supernatural here.

The story is good and the direction crisp. Hall makes for an effective heroine and acts her socks off in places to convince us she’s really terrified. West is equally good as the damaged veteran of a war who’s seen horrors that were all too real.

The ending perhaps does disappoint after what’s gone before it, not majorly but you might have expected something more, but as is so often the case with a haunted house film, with explanation comes disappointment, which is perhaps why the Haunting remains my favourite of the genre, because the supernatural isn’t quantified, and there are no answers in neat little boxes.

Not perfect then, but a damn fine effort and worth a hundred Saws. 7/10

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