July 30, 2012

The Awakening (2011)

"In 1921, England is overwhelmed by the loss and grief of World War I. Hoax exposer Florence Cathcart visits a boarding school to explain sightings of a child ghost. Everything she believes unravels as the 'missing' begin to show themselves."

"The Awakening" is the last ghostie film for this month and one which has taken nearly a year since its UK release for me to see. It was worth the wait.

Although it's very similar to "The Others", "Saint Ange" and "The Orphanage", it's different enough from all those to merit a place in the "The Vault". Yes, it really is that good.

At first, I thought that "The Awakening" was going to be no more than average. For obvious reasons, it has that made-for-TV look about it which the BBC does so well with supernatural dramas, even if none of them are ever all that scary. Stephen Volk wrote the screenplay, and since he's known for "Ghostwatch" and ITV's "Afterlife" TV series, I was a bit worried that everything would be PG-13 and a little bit "safe", if you know what I mean.

As an R-rated movie, "The Awakening" certainly goes into a few places which I didn't expect it to, and it's a lot more adult in terms of a more cerebral storyline. I'd still say that it's basically a PG-13 with a couple of moments of adult padding overall though. If I was to compare "The Awakening" to one of the later James Herbert novels rather than "Haunted" (which you may know was originally a BBC screenplay before becoming a book or a movie) then you'll also be able to spot both its strengths and its weaknesses.

There's certainly a creepy atmosphere to "The Awakening" which builds and then falls away again almost as quickly as the jump scares. Hardcore horror fans wouldn't be particularly frightened by this story, but it's definitely not something for little kids to watch. Some of the scenes are quite traumatic and of such a very adult nature that you'd have a lot of explaining to do. I only mention the latter because there really are some parents who are stupid enough to let children watch R-rated horror movies even though their little cherubs aren't legally old enough to buy them or understand what they are seeing.

What made this story work for me was the absolutely fantastic acting. Dominic West and Rebecca Hall have some great chemistry together which I'll say more about in a moment. Even Tom, the little boy played by Isaac Hempstead Wright, is good and not at all annoying like most British kids with posh accents are in this kind of movie.

I don't know anything about Rebecca Hall because I don't think that I've ever seen her in anything else. Trust me, if I had then I would have remembered it. She's beautiful and is completely credible in her role as a sceptical ghosthunter. The more I looked at her, the more I wanted to see of her. I wasn't disappointed either as she does get nude for a moment and it's everything that I expected it to be. She delivers on the tease, it isn't gratuitous, and, yes, I was very appreciative.

For those who wouldn't be impressed by such things, Dominic West provides some eyecandy for the ladies. I'm sure that he'll always be most famous for his role as Det. James McNulty in "The Wire" TV series, but he's back to his more Classical roots here. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a real actor actually act again.

I'd already guessed that there'd be a some kind of love story going on in this along with the scares. Rebecca Hall's Florence Cathcart is possibly too attractive and too young for Dominic West's character, but their relationship works. I think this is due to Florence Cathcart initially appearing to be a lot more mature than she really is. Both characters are damaged goods who need each other to heal although naysayers might argue that their relationship is unromantic, rushed and slightly too modern. The thing is, from documentaries that I've seen, I know that the 1920s were a lot sexier than we think.

The period setting is very well done but a little bit sparse. The bleakness is intentional, but I have no idea what Britain actually looked like in 1920s, and I couldn't tell if this was set in the '20s, '30s, or even the '40s really. I expect a lot of research went into it, so I'll just have to accept that everyone got it right.

The only negative thing which I have to say about "The Awakening" is that for a moment near the end, it's a little bit confusing. I know what was intended, but I don't think it was paced correctly. You'll see what I mean should you choose to watch this yourself anyway.

While "The Awakening" is stylistically similar to several ghost stories from the last 10 years, the journey doesn't take the same well worn path as the others (no pun intended). The double-twist ending is not only different but much happier. If you are feeling jaded by the lack of intelligent ghost stories, I highly recommend this movie.

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