In the wake of the Great War, England was shrouded in a time of recovery, melancholy and ghosts. The bereaved searched for their lost sons, brothers and lovers in the lies of con artists who claimed they could contact the afterlife in spiritual séances and readings. This is the setting in which we find our protagonist, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), a young scientist intent on debunking these fabrications. Upon being contacted by a rural school, where the death of one of the students is being blamed on a ghostly apparition, she sets out to disprove the story.
THE AWAKENING successfully captures the mood of the country at that time, perfectly set in the bleak countryside, which immediately places the characters in an almost black and white world, both literally and figuratively. But a well-conceived idea, delivered by a good script for most of the film, begins to lose its way by the third act. In many ways, it’s as if director Nick Murphy was not sure how to leave the characters; whether to step into the twist territory of M Night Shyamalan and this film’s close cousin, THE OTHERS, or to conclude in a more standard fashion. In any case, unfortunately, no attempt was made to do something different.
Rebecca Hall has stepped into her first full lead actress role with skill and presence; indeed, in the hands of a lesser actor, Florence might have been unbearable. But Hall is able to build a complex character, full of contradictions; exuding strength and vulnerability all at once. Her place as a young female in a male-dominated scientific world and her mysterious motives for finding spirits sets up an interesting situation – always subtly touched upon, but not interfering with the story at hand. She is supported well by the ever-reliable Imelda Staunton and a turn by Dominic West that will hopefully see him offered better roles in the future.
…Hall is able to build a complex character, full of contradictions; exuding strength and vulnerability all at once.
THE AWAKENING is certainly an engaging film; a classic ghost story with brilliant performances, and horror fans will enjoy some truly frightening, goose-bump-raising moments. But without pushing any boundaries, a film that could have been great becomes simply good.
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