I Do Believe in Spooks…I Do, I Do, I Do (Film Review: “The Awakening”)

I can’t seem to get enough of creepy ghost stories, especially those set in haunted British boarding schools! Maybe this stems from my own formative years spent in an all-girls Catholic boarding school in New Jersey which we were also convinced was haunted. But I digress. If you share my penchant for the genre, you’ll have a fun evening with The Awakening. And if you can suspend a bit of disbelief with the radical twist ending, you’ll enjoy it even more.


SnapShot Plot

It’s London, 1921. A wave of Spiritualism has swept through the people of Great Britain mourning the loss of loved ones who either fell in battle during WWI or succumbed to the mass influenza epidemic of a few years earlier. In the opening scene, we meet Florence Cathcart (played by the always engaging Rebecca Hall) pretending to be a participant and soon breaking up a phony seance, yet rather than feeling valiant, Florence returns home utterly deflated. A man appears at her door, holding a copy of Florence’s best-selling book, entitled, Seeing Through Ghosts. Miss Cathcart is NOT a believer, and has made it her life’s work to denounce the charlatans who exploit the grief of families and loved ones desperate to find a connection to the Other Side. She brings Science as her weapon of choice to fight this apparently very personal war, as we soon discover. The man, Robert Mallory (played by Dominic West, who you may know from The Wire) is a History teacher at a rural boys boarding school, Rookwood, sent to fetch Miss Cathcart to investigate the death three weeks earlier, of a student. Apparently the recent tragedy has resurrected the claims of ghost sightings among the boys, reigniting a decades old legend at Rookwood of a particular dead boy who keeps appearing as a shadow in grainy old class pictures. Needless to say, panic is setting in among the students, faculty, and parents. When Florence and Mallory arrive at the gloomy Rookwood, they are greeted by the Matron, Maud Hill (in a fine turn by veteran actress Imelda Staunton) and one of the students, Tom, whose parents are in India, hence he stays at school with Maud even when his classmates go home for holidays and breaks. What ensues is a fairly straightforward Victorian-era CSI case – with some eerie goosebumps here and there – that soon uncover the very real circumstances of the poor boy’s death, having nothing whatsoever to do with spirits. The fun starts, however, when Florence makes arrangements to leave Rookwood and finds herself at the center of a very personal and targeted Haunting.



Parting Shot

What made this a film I couldn’t turn off was the central performance by Rebecca Hall (you may know her from Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or The Town, or Iron Man 3) who gives a full emotional portrayal of a woman too smart for most of her contemporaries and barely managing to hold it together, for the personal losses she herself has suffered in life. I always believe this actress. Listen, The Awakening is far from a perfect film, but what it may lack in narrative and an over-subscribed formulaic conceit is compensated by really impressive production values, a rich cinematic canvas, and top-notch acting across the board, most notably by Hall, who is guaranteed to have a long and impressive career. Nick Murphy made his directorial debut with The Awakening, for which he also co-wrote the script and even wrote and performed a song on the soundtrack. He has an excellent touch with his actors and an impressive command of visual tone and atmosphere. You will no doubt be reminded of movies such as The Others (an adaptation of the Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw, as well as The Changeling (the red ball bouncing down the stairs) and even The Sixth Sense.  All I can say is, Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery.

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Featured Image Courtesy of: http://moviefilmreviews.co.uk/2011/10/28/review-the-awakening/

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB8UAuGBJGM#aid=P9TqzLXuGfw


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